Last word of season to OC girls: heartache

Last word of season to OC girls: heartache
Last word of season to OC girls: heartache | Last word of season to OC girls: heartache
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
MURFREESBORO — The final chapter in what was otherwise a storybook Obion County Central season didn’t have a happy ending.
Christ Presbyterian Academy turned the Lady Rebels’ year-long read from suspenseful thriller to horror story with a 61-52 come-from-behind victory that denied third-ranked OC the Class 2A girls’ state championship Saturday afternoon.
The heartbreaking loss spoiled what was, by all other accounts, the best season of girls’ basketball in OCCHS history — one that saw Central win a school-record 35 games while matching the best state tourney showing in the decorated 51-year annals of the program.
Obion Central also finished No. 2 among all Class 2A schools in the 1984-85 campaign when they won 29 times.
Likely no other loss in their previous 13 trips to the state tournament was more bitter than Saturday’s, however.
CPA — which was unranked at the end of the regular season, but finished 36-3 and with the ultimate prize — missed its first 14 shots from the field and trailed the Lady Rebels by 11 points less than two minutes before halftime.
But the Lady Lions, who hit just 20 percent (7-of-35) over the first two quarters, outscored OC 44-29 in the second half when they rebounded to shoot 50 percent (13-of-26), and took advantage of 15 missed Central free throws to rally and be fitted for their first-ever girls’ crown.
The Rebels’ demise could also be traced 20 offensive rebounds surrendered that helped CPA get off 16 more shots than Obion Central’s 45 attempts.
“We didn’t block out all day, and when you get beat on the offensive glass like we did and miss 15 free throws, too, you’re not going to win state tournament games very often,” OC head coach Lyle LaRue said immediately following his team’s setback.
“You might be able to do one or the other, but the competition here is too good to do both of those things and get away with it.”
CPA opened the second half by making its first three shot attempts and used a 12-4 burst to take its first lead at 29-27 on Mallory Charpentier’s two foul shots at the 3:32 mark.
It was nip-and-tuck for the remainder of the period with a running 28-foot bank shot by Central’s Macy Wright evening the count at 37 heading into the final eight minutes.
An attacking Wright, who scored nine of her team-best 17 points in the fourth stanza, made a driving bucket 54 seconds into the frame to give the Lady Rebels their last lead at 41-39.
CPA made that a short-lived advantage, though, as Sami Elefante — a maker of 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc in a reserve role — knocked down two in succession to put the Lions ahead to stay with the first of those triples at the 6:56 mark.
Central twice got within a single deuce, the second time via a Paige Hicks score, and late was within 49-46 via 1-of-2 free throws by Wright with 2:07 showing.
But the underlying theme of 5-of-12 foul line shooting in the fourth quarter that included five straight misses at one point and the Lady Lions’ collapsing, physical defense on OC’s Brandi Goodman that limited her clean looks at the bucket spelled doom for the county locals.
“Because they played a sagging defense, it made it tough to run our usual zone plays,” LaRue said. “I really liked our chances after Macy made the big shot to end the third quarter, but they got their hands on a lot of balls in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t rebound or shoot free throws well at all.”
The coach agreed that his squad had a golden opportunity to bury the Lady Lions in the midst of their horrendous shooting exhibition to start the contest.
But the Rebel girls led only 7-0 before CPA finally broke through on a fourth-chance stickback nearly five minutes into the game by Lauren Thompson — named tourney MVP after an 18-point, 19-rebound performance in the finals.
Central did go on to build a lead as large as 23-12 after buckets by Ali McEwen and Goodman, but the Nashville private school got a critical 3-pointer from Elefante and a deuce by Emily Boyd in the final 90 seconds of the first half to be well within striking distance (23-17) at the intermission.
“It was the best 15 minutes to start a game we’ve played all season. I thought we shocked them a little and we were on the verge of making it really hard for them to be able to get back in the game until that last minute of the first half,” LaRue continued.
“We got a little reckless, though, took a couple of quick shots, and they made a 3 and another bucket that really gave them the momentum. And I’d say that when you shoot 20 percent from the field in a half and are only down by six, you have to feel pretty good about yourself and your chances in the second half.”
Goodman, who accumulated 63 points and grabbed 40 rebounds in three tournament games — recording double-doubles in each — ended up with 16 points and 15 boards in the finale.
McEwen, who joined teammates Wright and Goodman on the all-tourney team, finished with 12 markers on 5-of-6 shooting to represent the only OC player to make better than 50 percent from the field in the championship game.
Five CPA players — headlined by Thompson — were selected to the all-tournament squad.
Though obviously disappointed with the outcome, LaRue spoke glowingly of this edition of Lady Rebels that loses but one starter in Wright.
“Without a doubt, this is the closest team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said the coach, who has a 93-13 record in three seasons at the helm of the program. “They’ve been together a lot. They sleep seven to a room sometime when we’ve stayed in hotels, and they don’t get tired of each other or bicker back and forth.
“I truly believe that type of closeness helps you win close games. And even though we didn’t win today, we’ve won several tight ones this year where I have no doubt that was the difference.”
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 3.12.12

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