Note: This story was last updated at 3:40 p.m.
First-year Oak Ridge Coach Paige Green and her young Lady Wildcats advanced to the state basketball championship game on Saturday after beating Bradley Central 38-31 in a Class AAA semifinal game in Murfreesboro on Friday.
It was a success story that few, if any, had predicted. Wildcats broadcasters called it a “miraculous journey” and a “Cinderella run.”
The Lady Wildcats were led by sophomore Mykia Dowdell with 15 points, nine rebounds, and two steals. Freshman Jada Guinn had nine points, two rebounds, and two assists, and sophomore Jaymi Golden added eight points, including late free throws that helped seal the win.
Oak Ridge (30-4) trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter, but they rallied starting late in that quarter and continuing through the fourth to knock off Bradley Central (32-4). The Lady Wildcats took a 26-25 lead with about 3.5 minutes left in the game on a feed across the lane from Golden to Guinn, who scored a layup.
On a seven-point scoring run, Guinn then made a three-point shot near the top of the key that gave Oak Ridge a 30-27 lead with 2:18 remaining.
Golden was 6-of-8 from the free throw line in the final 1:06 to help give Oak Ridge a seven-point lead at the final buzzer.
The Lady Wildcats last made it to the state championship game in 1999, when they played Gallatin. They were 8-21 a few seasons ago, in 2014. They were never ranked this year, according to broadcaster David Clary of Prepradio.com.
Oak Ridge’s starters include one senior (Caelyn Thompson), one junior (Courtney Ellison), two sophomores (Dowdell and Golden), and one freshman (Guinn). The two players who rotate in most frequently—Desiree Bates and Jasmine Hembry—are also sophomores.
Oak Ridge will play Riverdale (31-4) in the Division I Class AAA championship game at 1 p.m. Central (2 p.m. Eastern) Saturday at the Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State University. The Lady Warriors, of Murfreesboro, beat Memphis Central 80-58 in another semifinal game on Friday.
Bradley Central, a Cleveland team, was led against Oak Ridge by Hallie Hughes with 12 points and six rebounds and Julia Gaither with 10 points and four rebounds.
Defended by Thompson, Bradley Central’s Rhyne Howard was held to six points and two rebounds. She had two fouls midway through the first quarter and picked up three more in the fourth quarter before fouling out in the final seconds.
The Lady Wildcats played good defense and shot 41 percent from field goal range, compared to 26 percent for the Bearettes. The two teams were closely matched in rebounds—24 for Bradley Central and 23 for Oak Ridge—and turnovers—15 for Bradley Central and 14 for Oak Ridge.
Green was an All-American as a senior at Bradley Central in 1995, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Here are comments by Green after the game:
On the matchup with her former school: “I wanted all the focus to be on the Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats and the Bradley Central Bearettes. When you look at how many times both schools have been here, it says a lot about two programs that have a lot of tradition. I knew it would be a battle. I’m just thankful that my girls came out on top.”
On Rhyne Howard finishing with six points and five fouls: “We held Howard to fewer points than I thought we would, honestly. Our game plan going in was we knew she was going to score and get her points—we have to contain everybody else. She got in foul trouble, and that’s hard as a player because it frustrates you and takes you out of the flow of the game. She didn’t play hardly any the first half.”
On a slow offensive pace: “Slowing down the game wasn’t intentional on our end because that is not our strength, but we knew we had to hold them to a low number of scoring to win. That’s what got us back in it in the second half was not holding it offensively, whether it was getting rebounds and pushing the tempo or attacking instead of waiting.”
Here are comments by Bradley Central Coach Jason Reuter:
“We had Rhyne sitting out the first half, but we came in up two (up 15-13 at halftime). We never got in rhythm. We didn’t shoot real well, and you have to credit their defense for that. They played tough man-to-man defense. The breaks didn’t go our way today, and you have to credit Oak Ridge a lot to holding us 26 percent from the floor. We out-rebounded them and got to the free throw line. We just didn’t shoot well.”
On Oak Ridge’s offense: “They are kind of a sneaky transition team. They ran when they had the opportunity, and they weren’t going to force any bad shots. We knew that they would run, but we knew they wouldn’t be running for jump shots. There wasn’t a whole lot of scoring going on, but they did get three or four transition buckets.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Freelance photographer Paul Ward contributed to this story.
— TSSAA (@tssaa) March 11, 2016
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