Note: This story was last updated at 2:25 a.m.
KNOXVILLE—The Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats battled back from an eight-point deficit in the second quarter of a Region 2 semifinal win against William Blount on Monday and kept their composure against a swarming defense to advance to the regional championship against Bearden on Wednesday.
The Lady Wildcats (26-4) permanently seized the lead about halfway through the second quarter behind the 10 first-half points of junior Courtney Ellison. They widened the lead to as many as 16 points in the second half before finishing ahead 64-53 in the Region 2-AAA elimination semifinal at Bearden High School.
Ellison led Oak Ridge with 21 points, a career high. Late in the third quarter, she made a three-point shot and a field goal within about 45 seconds to help open up a 44-31 lead. She added two more field goals from the left and right baseline late in the fourth quarter to maintain an Oak Ridge margin of about 10 points.
“I was really into it tonight,” Ellison said. “I was really wanting the win, and it was there.”
It’s the first time the Lady Wildcats have made it to the regional championship since 2010, the last year Jill Prudden coached Oak Ridge.
The Lady Governors’ defense was physical—six William Blount players had two fouls at halftime, Oak Ridge Coach Paige Green said—and they swarmed whichever Lady Wildcat had the ball and tried to force a turnover, a tactic that often worked early in the game.
“Every game they have is a game of runs,” Green said of William Blount (23-10), the District 4 runner-up. “You have to keep your composure even if they’re on a 10-0 run…I couldn’t be more proud of how my girls kept their composure under that pressure…It’s amazing to see the growth that they’ve had and the confidence.”
The Lady Wildcats, the District 3 champion, prepared for that defense, which tried to get deflections and steals, using junior varsity and freshman boys during basketball practice on Sunday. They practiced the two- and three-person traps they expected to see from the Lady Governors.
“She (Coach Green) just told us to come out here and do what we do best and there’s no doubt in my mind that we would not lose,” said sophomore point guard Jaymi Golden, who made four crucial free throws in the last 40 seconds to reduce the possibility of any late comeback by William Blount.
“Coach just told me to stick it in,” Golden said of those last free throws. “We’ve been working for this all season.”
Besides Ellison, Oak Ridge had three other players in double digits on Monday. Freshman guard Jada Guinn had 15, senior forward Caelyn Thompson had 12, and sophomore forward Mykia Dowdell finished with 11.
William Blount used frequent substitutions, often swapping out three or four players at a time, like a hockey line, while Oak Ridge stuck with seven players for the entire game. The Lady Governors were led by senior guard Lindsey Roddy, who scored a game-high 25 points, including on four three-point shots. Sophomore guard Lexi Campos had nine.
Despite the frequent substitutions by William Blount, Oak Ridge was able to keep up with the Lady Governors. The Lady Wildcats said they worked long hours on the track and football field in October and ran a lot in the pre-season, and Green and her players cited that training on Monday.
“We’re very well-conditioned,” Ellison said.
Bearden (27-5) beat Hardin Valley (17-13), 65-41, in the other semifinal game on Monday to advance to Wednesday’s championship game. The championship game starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bearden High School.
Oak Ridge and Bearden will both get to play at least two more games, the regional championship and a state sectional game. In the state sectionals, which will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Region 1 champion will play the Region 2 runner-up, and the Region 2 champion will play the Region 1 runner-up. The winners of those games will advance to the state tournament. Dobyns Bennett and Morristown West are playing in the Region 1 championship. (See the tournament bracket here.)
The Monday night game was the third time in one week that a Lady Wildcat has scored 21 points in a playoff game for Oak Ridge. On Tuesday, Guinn scored a career-high 21 points in the District 3-AAA championship win over Campbell County. On Friday, Dowdell did it in a Region 2-AAA elimination quarterfinal win over Heritage.
“We’re clicking a lot,” Ellison said. “We’re all working as a team, and it’s going really well for us.”
In its semifinal win on Monday, Bearden was led by sophomore point guard Trinity Lee with a game-high 21 points. Senior post Anajae Stephney scored 20.
Junior post Symphony Buxton led Hardin Valley with 12 points. Sophomore post Abbey Cornelius and sophomore guard Lizzie Davis each had seven.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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