By Tim Chambers
The Lady Longhorns found a way to ease the pain for head coach Leon Tolley who was out sick with flu-like symptoms for the second consecutive game. A win over his former team would provide the perfect medicine on Saturday night before a standing room only crowd inside of Ray Shoun Gymnasium.
Johnson County’s 43-35 victory over Hampton shocked many, considering the Longhorns were without two starters, senior guard Courtney Brooks and freshman forward Emmy Miller. It said a lot about their coaching staff and the hard work they and the players had done in such a short time frame this season. The Horns started five sophomores and was led in scoring by their freshman guard. They drew praise from boys head coach and athletic director Austin Atwood.
“I am happy for what Leon (Tolley), Garry (Smith) and Kechia (Eller) have done for this program,” said Atwood. “We have a great staff and a good group of girls. They have come a long way and have brought a lot of excitement back to girls basketball at Johnson County. We all are proud of them.”
The game set the tone for what would end up being an unforgettable week for the Longhorns with two huge varsity wins over their neighboring rivals, Happy Valley and Hampton.
“We’ve been trying to validate ourselves all season,” said assistant coach Kechia Eller who led the team in Tolley’s absence. “A win over a good team like Hampton does that. Our kids are starting to see why it’s important to play together as a team. We’ve really bought into that over the last three games.”
The Lady Horns could muster only five points in the first quarter and trailed 8-5 after Shy Tuelle’s three-ball at the buzzer. But things got better in the second.
They did much better in the second quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs 12-6 to go up 17-14 at the half. Stout and Taylor Cox had four points each that offset Tuelle’s second buzzer beating shot.
Neither team could generate much offense in the third quarter; still the Longhorns outscored Hampton 8-6. Hazlee Kleine stepped up huge by scoring twice off offensive rebounds. Six of Johnson County’s points came that way, including two by Cox at the buzzer that gave them a 25-20 advantage heading into the fourth.
Johnson County opened up a 29-22 lead only to watch Hampton go on a 6-0 run. Stephanie Campbell’s three-ball cut the deficit at 29-28 with 4:55 remaining, but the Horns didn’t fold.
Natalie Winters converted a huge 3-point play with 3:16 remaining and Cox had a big bucket that upped the lead at five.
Stout had a monster fourth quarter hitting 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. Two free throws by Adrian Hall gave Johnson County their largest lead of the game at 43-33 and sealed the deal for their second straight win in three nights.
Stout topped the Horns with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists. She said that beating Hampton was extra special.
“It’s such a big rival game because you come in nervous but yet it’s exciting,” said Stout. “It’s like a Duke and UNC rivalry. We’re all close and know one another. You always want to play well against your friends and we did that tonight.”
Cox added 12 points and eight rebounds after missing the Happy Valley game due to sickness. She said the team had someone special on their minds.
“We wanted to win this game for Coach Tolley,” said Cox. “We wanted to prove to him and others that we were starting to become a good team. We’re on a streak now and we want to keep it going. We definitely miss Coach and we want to see him get back here soon.”
Parsons once again dominated the boards by grabbing 13 rebounds. Kleine provided six points and six rebounds. Winters added five points and three assists.
“One of our goals was to be playing well at tournament time,” said Winters. “Our team is starting to come together. We have three big conference games next week and our goal is to go win them all. We definitely want to try and make it to the regional tournament this year.”
Tuelle, the Campbell University signee, led all scorers with 18 points for Hampton.
Assistant coach Garry Smith talked about Tolley’s presence despite him being at home sick.
“He’s done a great job of winning these kids over,” said Smith. “They trust and believe in him. He’s the mastermind behind this rebuilding process.”
I spoke to Tolley on Monday and he was proud of what his team had accomplished during his absence.
“I’ve felt like for a while we’ve been close,” said Tolley. “We couldn’t get everybody healthy at the same time but the effort’s been there. I finally found what I could do to help us most and that’s to stay away for a few games. I have the utmost confidence in Coach Eller and coach Smith and the girls trust them as much or more than they do me. It really didn’t surprise me they played the way they did. It’s good to see them rewarded for their efforts. They’ve worked awful hard to get there. It’s just a great group of kids.”
Johnson County 43, Hampton 35
JOHNSON CO. (43)
Stout 15, Cox 12, Kleine 6, Winters 5, Parsons 3, Hall 2, Cornett 0.
Tuelle 18, Hill 5, Royston 6, Campbell 3, Collins 2, Carden 1
Johnson Co. 5 12 8 18 — 43
Hampton 8 6 6 15 —- 35
3-point goals—JC 0, Hampton 4 (Tuelle 2, Campbell 1, Hill 1)