Note: This story was last updated at 4:10 p.m. March 13.
MURFREESBORO—Riverdale dominated, and Oak Ridge finished as state runner-up in the Class AAA girls basketball championship in Murfreesboro on Saturday.
The Lady Warriors (32-4) led from start to finish in their 68-36 win. They’ve now won five state titles since 2007, with the last one in 2013.
The Lady Wildcats (30-5) have won three state championships, with the last one in 1997.
The Oak Ridge and Riverdale teams both featured young players this year, and both were led Saturday by first-year coaches. Players from both teams said no one expected them to end up in the final Class AAA game of the 2016 BlueCross Basketball Championships. The two teams have already set their sights on next season.
Riverdale was led Saturday by junior Anastasia Hayes, a Miss Basketball finalist, with a game-high 27 points, three rebounds, and four steals. Sophomore Alexis Whittington scored 14, pulled down five rebounds, and had five assists. Her twin sister Amanda Whittington had six rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
The Lady Warriors set a new record for field goal percentage in the state tournament, shooting 59.7 percent from two-point range. The previous record of 56 percent was set by Booker T. Washington in 1981.
Riverdale shot 56.3 percent on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Lady Wildcats shot 28.9 percent from the field. They made no three-point shots, while Riverdale had five.
Oak Ridge was led by sophomore Mykia Dowdell with 12 points, a game-high eight rebounds, and one steal. Senior Caelyn Thompson, playing in her last game for the Lady Wildcats, and junior Courtney Ellison each scored seven. Sophomore Jaymi Golden added six points, three rebounds, and two assists, and freshman Jada Guinn, who was named most valuable player in both the District 3-AAA and Region 2-AAA tournaments this year, finished with six rebounds, two points, and two assists.
“This is not what we wanted,” said first-year Oak Ridge Coach Paige Green. “We came here to win.”
Still, “They need to be proud of where they came from,” Green said of her young team. “They should hold their heads up high.”
Dowdell and Guinn were both named to the All-Tournament team.
The Lady Wildcats, who were never ranked this year, went undefeated in District 3-AAA during the regular season, and they won both the District 3-AAA championship and the Region 2-AAA championship.
“No one expected us to be here,” Green said of the state championship game. “There were no expectations.”
Now, the Oak Ridge girls have raised the bar.
“This is a championship team and a championship program,” Green said. “There’s no going back.”
Hayes said some people also thought Riverdale, with its relatively young roster and first-year coach, couldn’t make it to the state tournament.
“We proved them wrong,” Hayes said.
The Lady Warriors beat Blackman, two-time state champions and 2014 national champion, 73-66, in a regional tournament on their way to the state tournament this year.
“If we could beat them, we could beat anybody,” Hayes said.
Randy Coffman, Riverdale’s first-year coach, said the Lady Warriors executed well against Oak Ridge, took the “right shots in the right places,” and were focused on the game plan on defense.
“We came up here to win the gold ball,” said Coffman, who coached at Dyersburg for 17 years before moving to Riverdale.
The Lady Wildcats showed they could not be counted out this season. Trailing Bearden at halftime in the Region 2-AAA championship, for example, they rallied in the second half to take a 49-35 lead against the taller, senior-led team that made it to the state semifinals last year and had been ranked this year.
“Our motto this year was: ‘One team, one family,'” Dowdell said.
The Lady Wildcats rallied again on Saturday, gaining some momentum early in the second half.
They had trailed Riverdale 37-16 at halftime after being outscored 23-5 in the first quarter.
But the game wasn’t over at that point, Dowdell said, and Green told the team at halftime that they have to keep their composure, score, and rebound.
“We’re not going to give up,” Dowdell said.
The Lady Wildcats, who switched to zone defense for the first time this season, rallied at times in the third quarter to narrow the Riverdale lead, but the Lady Warriors answered each time to halt Oak Ridge’s momentum. Early in the third quarter, for example, the Lady Wildcats went on a 6-0 run to narrow the Lady Warriors’ lead to 24-39.
“(Coach Green) just told us to push through,” Guinn said. “We don’t have anything to lose…A lot of people didn’t think we’d get here.”
But Riverdale answered that run with a three-pointer by Caroline Patrick, the only starting senior, from the left corner to bump the Lady Warriors’ lead back up to 42-25.
Hayes, who was named tournament MVP, played the lead role in sealing the Riverdale win in the third quarter, scoring 11 points in those eight minutes. Hayes, who showed an ability to split defenders on her way to the basket, made four layups in the last 3:07 of the third quarter. Two followed Oak Ridge turnovers, and two came after Riverdale rebounds.
By the end of the third quarter, the Lady Warriors had widened their lead to 53-30.
Oak Ridge struggled offensively against Riverdale, and defense didn’t turn into offense like it has in previous games, Green said.
“They’ve got so many weapons,” Green said of the Lady Warriors.
The Lady Wildcats are already planning for next year. Dowdell said the team will use Saturday’s loss as motivation to get better, with plans to work on running, free throws, and shooting, including from the outside.
The goal next year, Guinn said, is to come back to the state championship game and win.
The Lady Wildcats have been in the state tournament 22 times and made it to the state championship game 10.
Here is the Class AAA girls all-tournament team: Anastasia Hayes (MVP), Riverdale; Rhyne Howard, Bradley Central; Miyah Barnes, Memphis Central; Julia Gaither, Bradley Central; Jasmine Carson, Memphis Central; Amanda Whittington, Riverdale; Jada Guinn, Oak Ridge; Brinae Alexander, Riverdale; Mykia Dowdell, Oak Ridge; and Alexis Whittington, Riverdale.
The Riverdale win came one year after the TSSAA kicked the Lady Warriors and Smyrna out of the playoffs after attempting to throw a District 7-AAA consolation game, according to the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro. The state tournament run came in a season when the Lady Warriors were neither the District 7-AAA regular season nor tournament champion.
See the final stats and a play-by-play game summary here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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