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Sacré-Cœur beats George Rogers Clark in the first round

LEXINGTON — For seven minutes of near-perfect play Thursday night, George Rogers Clark High School Looked like the best women's basketball team in Kentucky.

For the next 25 minutes, Sacre Coeur showed why he held that title for four years.

The Valkyries locked down their defense, held their opponents scoreless for over 10 minutes and got outstanding play on the offensive end from Angelina Pelayo and ZaKiyah Johnson to beat GRC, 57-46, in the first round of the tournament. Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Mild at the Rupp Arena.

Seeking an unprecedented fourth straight state title, No. 1-ranked Sacred Heart (28-7) advanced to face Bethlehem (27-8) Friday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

“They’re on a mission,” GRC coach Robbie Graham said of the Valkyries. “We just came across a circular saw.”

The 6-foot-3 Pelayo had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson, named Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year earlier Thursday, added 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Freshman point guard Kennedy Stamper scored 13 points to lead No. 3 GRC (30-5).

The Cardinals were 4 for 7 on 3-pointers in the first quarter and took a 21-10 lead on a Stamper 3 at the 1:20 mark. Those were the Cardinals' final points of the half.

Sacred Heart scored the next 16 points – including six from Pelayo – to take a 26-21 halftime lead. GRC was 0 of 9 from the field in the second quarter.

“It looked pretty dismal after that first quarter when we gave up 21 points,” Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said. “I was really proud of our girls because they stayed in the moment. We came out and defended in the second quarter. … We talked about our defense being what was going to win this game, and we played exceptional defense and made big shots when we needed to.

Teigh Yeast's basket at 7:01 of the third quarter finally ended GRC's scoring drought that lasted 10 minutes, 19 seconds.

Stamper's basket brought GRC within 31-30 at 3:08 of the third quarter, but it was all Sacred Heart from there. Johnson scored seven points during a 16-2 run that pushed Sacred Heart's lead to 47-32 with 4:53 remaining.

“I think we’re a little tired,” Graham said. “Our traps were a little slower and our rotations were a little slower. They managed to get some easy baskets and started sending this stuff to Angelina. …

“Pelayo is a difficult match for us. We're out there fighting and scratching and doing everything we can, but at the end of the day she's still (6-3) and we're 5-10 and 5-11 trying to fight .

Pelayo was 8 of 13 from the field and made a 3-pointer for just the third time this season.

“People don’t think I can shoot,” Pelayo said with a smile, “but I can.”

Pelayo scored several times thanks to Johnson's assists.

“I basically live with her, so we probably have that sister connection in there,” Johnson said. “I’ll always find her. I see when she has the lag, and I'll give it to her every time to go to work because I don't care how many points I have. Survive and move forward.

Sacred Heart senior Claire Russell also made a big contribution with six points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

“I just go out there and play with all my heart,” she said. “I know I'm not the best offensive player there is, so I let my teammates do that work. I know they trust me to do all the little things.

Friday's quarterfinal will pit two of the top juniors in the country, Johnson and Bethlehem's Leah Macy. Johnson is the nation's No. 5 ranked recruit in the class of 2025 by HoopGurlz Recruitment Rankings. Macy's is ranked #8.

The stars previously met when Macy played Mercy.

“I know everyone is looking for that match against ZaKiyah and Leah Macy,” Moir said. “I think it’s going to be a great match. You should never neglect anyone here, and I think we will be ready to face them.

SACRED HEART 12 14 16 15 – 57

RCMP 21 0 11 14 – 46

Sacred Heart (28-7) – Tootie Jordan 5, ZaKiyah Johnson 18, Claire Russell 6, Reagan Bender 8, Angelina Pelayo 20.

George Rogers Clark (30-5) – Kennedy Stamper 13, Teigh Yeast 8, Makili Tabor 3, Anaya Chestnut 11, Jailenn Green 4, Madelyn Settles 3, Annette Miller 4.

More Sweet 16 girls: Bethlehem and Henderson County advance to Friday's quarterfinals

Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; jfrakes@courier-journal.com; Follow on X @kyhighs.

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