‘Batman and Robin’: McCracken County’s dynamic duo goes off in Girls’ Sweet 16 semifinals

McCracken County (32-5) dominated the first quarter and held strong to reach its second consecutive title game with Saturday afternoon’s 74-57 victory against Butler in the semifinals of the 2024 Mingua Beef Jerky Girls’ Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.

Its offense was powered, per head coach Scott Sivills, by Mustangs seniors Claire Johnson, a Samford signee, and Mikee Buchanan.

“Claire Johnson is a Miss Basketball candidate by the way she carries herself on the floor, she can score at all three levels,” he said. “But she is a competitor.”

Pairing Johnson with Buchanan is “like Batman and Robin,” he said. “Mickey is a college player. Somebody is going to get an incredible kid and incredible player. And I hope they’re listening.”

Johnson and Buchanan combined for 64 of the Mustangs’ 74 total points. From start to finish, the duo kept the Bears at bay and found ways to shine on both ends of the floor. Johnson scored 18 of her 39 points in the first quarter to get McCracken County started off on the right foot as the Mustangs took an 21-5 lead.

“Super excited with the way our kids just competed and played today,” Sivills said. “In this tournament it’s very important to get off to a really good start, and getting off to that start at the very beginning of the game set the tone for us. I thought Claire Johnson played a Miss Basketball type of game.”

Butler (28-9) rallied in the second quarter, coming back from as many as 17 down to pull within seven by halftime. The Bears even cut McCracken County’s lead to three late in the third quarter before the Mustangs regained control.

The comeback attempt was fueled by double-figure performances by Malia Patrick (12 points) and Miss Kentucky Basketball candidates Mariah Knight (14 points), a Jacksonville commit, and Ramiya White (18 points), a Kentucky commit. Head coach Candyce Wheeler, the team’s fourth coach in four seasons, applauded her team’s fight and perseverance.

“I know that the change wasn’t easy, especially having four coaches in four years,” Wheeler said. “That change is hard. But they bought in, they trusted the process and it was up and down. Trust me, it was up and down, but they finally just trusted the process and followed my lead and we were able to do some very, very special things. Obviously, we wanted to play tonight, but that just wasn’t in the cards and that’s OK.”

Both Johnson and Buchanan noted the importance of experience when battling in a game as competitive as this one.

“I think it’s so important,” Johnson said. “We came our first year that we made it to state, we lost first round. And then the second year, we pushed through, got to the championship game again. And then I think this year it’s like we even have more experience. We’ve been here before and we know it’s our last game. Just trying to enjoy those moments together.”

“We have to leave it on the floor, that’s for sure,” Buchanan said. “I mean, it’s been great playing with everybody and we just got to remember who we’re playing for, and it’s each other.”

“Before the game I felt the calmness of our kids,” Sivills said. “They were loose, they were relaxed. And that’s because of these two seniors up here, they made them feel that way. So we just go back and get some rest and get something to eat and come back and give our best.”

The Mustangs advanced to face Sacred Heart in the state championship game, which was won by the Valkyries, on Saturday night.

Miss Kentucky Basketball candidate and Samford signee Claire Johnson scored 39 points in the McCracken County’s Girls’ Sweet 16 semifinals victory against Butler.
Miss Kentucky Basketball candidate and Samford signee Claire Johnson scored 39 points in the McCracken County’s Girls’ Sweet 16 semifinals victory against Butler.

2024 Girls’ Sweet 16: Wrap-up from the final day of the basketball state tournament

‘Pick our poison.’ McCracken earns repeat trip to Sweet 16 semis with balanced offense.

‘I had to step up.’ Kentucky signee powers Butler to Girls’ Sweet 16 semifinals.

‘It starts with defense.’ McCracken County shuts down Russell on opening day of Sweet 16.