By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Brooke Jennings made ‘stall-ball’ essentially a non-issue.
Jennings opened Thursday’s District 13AA semifinal with back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a run of 14 straight Obion Central points and the third-ranked Lady Rebels then were largely unaffected by the delay tactics of Westview in a 54-46 victory that secured OC a spot in the tournament championship game.
Central (28-3) will face Covington (21-9) — a 45-37 upset winner over eighth-ranked Dyersburg in Thursday’s other semi — at 8 p.m. Saturday in search of its second straight 13AA tourney title and 15th in school history.
The Lady Rebs will also surely have revenge on their minds, too, following a 61-59 overtime loss in the two teams’ regular season finale a week ago that snapped Obion Central’s 46-game regular season winning streak.
Westview (19-10) will play the host Lady Trojans (26-5) in Saturday’s consolation game at 6:30.
Jennings, who went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and finished with a career-high 16 points, made the decision of Westview coach Sean Stephenson to hold the ball for over seven minutes of the opening period in an attempt to dictate the pace of the game less of an issue afterward.
“Having the lead against Westview is so critical, because it allows you some say-so in how they elect to play and at what tempo,” Central skipper Lyle LaRue said immediately after Thursday’s triumph. “Brooke hitting those first two threes was huge because it gave us the option of either sitting back and letting them stall or coming out and pressuring them defensively.
“We’d decided we weren’t going to let them stall unless we had the lead. Then when Brandi (Goodman) got the two early fouls, it changed our mind and we let them take pretty much seven minutes off the clock.
“The big thing was that they (Westview) had basically just decided that they weren’t going to let Brandi and Macy (Wright) beat them and that left opportunities open for folks like Brooke and Paige (Hicks). And they both stepped up huge.”
Almost as critical as Jennings’ early marksmanship from the perimeter was the final six seconds of the first period when Hicks made two free throws after the Lady Chargers had thrown the ball away following their aforementioned seven-minute delay. A Hicks steal was then converted into a made-layup by teammate Shannon Wiggins at the buzzer to give the county locals a 10-0 shutout in the quarter.
Ali McEwen’s two foul shots and her stickback follow Wright’s steal stretched the lead to 14 in the first 30 seconds of the second canto.
After Kayley Leyhue finally got Westview on the scoreboard with a free throw and Teddy Vincent made the Lady Chargers’ first field goal at 6:43 of the stanza, Martin actually played OC on even terms the rest of the way.
Stephenson, who employed a similar slowdown gameplan the last time the two teams played and with similar results, explained the strategy afterward.
“We need for the game to be in the upper-30s or low-40s when we play Obion Central,” the coach claimed. “We have to pick and choose when and how much we play them in the open court because they’re so explosive and that’s not our game.
“Once you get in a hole, though, it makes it so tough. I was proud of our kids for not getting rattled and coming back and having a chance, but give Jennings credit. We wanted her to have to make shots for them to beat us, and she did. When you hold the other teams’ two best players (Goodman and Wright) to a combined 18 points, and they have two others (Jennings and Hicks) combine for 30, you have to tip your cap to them.”
Hicks’ triple gave Central a double-digit halftime lead (24-14) after the Lady Chargers had trimmed the difference to seven on Kayley Leyhue’s bucket. The Lady Rebels borrowed a page from the Westview playbook and milked nearly the final three minutes off the clock in the first half without attempting a shot.
Westview got within five (24-19) early in the third period on a Tiffany Rechis trey and Leyhue’s stickback, but the last of Jennings’ four 3-pointers made that the closest the Charger girls would get.
OC led by as many as 13 with 68 seconds to go after both Jennings and Wright sank two foul shots apiece before Rechis converted a rare 4-point play to draw Martin within 49-43 at the one-minute mark.
But Wright, who had nine of her 11 markers in the final frame, made two more charities after Goodman did the same as part of a 9-of-11 free throw exhibition by Central in the last 1:45 to seal the triumph.
Goodman, the Lady Rebels’ leading scorer and rebounder on the season who’d missed the last two games via injury (strained quad) and illness (stomach bug), finished with just one field goal and seven points.
Westview’s Rechis tied Jennings for high-point honors with 16.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.17.12