Facing the Unaka Lady Rangers at home, the Johnson County Lady Longhorns continued the frustrating pattern of close call defeats that have plagued them so far this season. In yet another close game, Johnson County put up an excellent fight, even carrying an 11-point lead late in the third quarter, only to come up just a handful of points short in the end.
Visibly exhausted and obviously disappointed with the outcome, head Coach Todd Whittemore was showing the strain of so many narrow defeats. Im tired of losing with a team that I think should be winning, Whittemore said. Im tired of panicking in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. Im wondering do we have to be up 50? Im hurting. This bothers me. This bothers me that weve got fans paying and coming in early to see us play, and after three years I havent apparently taught them how to handle the press. Im not doing whatever it is I need to do to teach them how.
Although their record may not show it yet, the Lady Longhorns have improved greatly over the last couple of years, earning the respect of their opponents and forcing them to look at Johnson County in a new light. Not once this season has there been a runaway game where the Lady Longhorns didnt have a strong chance to win, and this game was no exception.
From the very first quarter the match-up was a close one. For almost every basket the Lady Rangers made, Johnson County had one to answer. Even when Unaka began to pull away in the last couple of minutes in the period, a trip to the foul line by Brionna Reece, allowed the Lady Longhorns to close out behind by just four points at 12-16. By three minutes into the second quarter, the score had tied at 18 thanks to two free throws from Sarah Swift and a bucket from Brooke Brown.
A very physical game, fouls played a heavy role throughout the first half, with Unaka staying just one point ahead of Johnson County until another couple of free-throws by Swift finally switched the lead to the Longhorns favor at 22-21. Tensions were high following halftime and fans were expecting a long, slow battle for the finish, but were surprised to see the home team blast ahead at the beginning of the third.
Starting with a beautiful three-point shot from Brooke Brown, and yet another only a minute later, the Lady Longhorns swiftly jumped ahead with a double-digit lead. Coupled with foul shots by Mary Taylor, Sarah Swift, and Brionna Reece, Johnson County looked very strong all the way up to the last minute. The momentum began to shift with a Unaka three-pointer with just under two minutes on the clock. A lay up from Brionna Reece helped keep Johnson Countys lead fairly stable, but by the fourth quarter the Lady Rangers had started gaining again at 39-32.
As much as Johnson County dominated the third quarter, the Lady Rangers dominated the fourth. Starting with a quick bucket early in the quarter followed by a technical foul against assistant coach Stacy Reece, Unaka was able to bring the deficit down to just three points at 39-36. A long-range shot just seconds later tied up the game, and a foul afterwards gave the Lady Rangers all the opportunity they needed to take back the lead.
With the clock running, the Lady Longhorns knew they had to work hard to get back in control. Things began to look bright again as Sarah Swift got a technical foul of her own, pushing the score back up to just one point behind at 41-42. A bucket under the net flipped the lead again to 43-42, but this time there was no big boost in momentum for Johnson County. Landing a huge three-pointer at the four-minute mark, Unaka stole back the lead for the last time.
Holding the ball and trying to run out the clock, an already physical game hit a new high. Fouls in the last two minutes racked up, mostly in the Lady Rangers favor. In only a matter of seconds a two-point lead turned into a 6-point lead and it was becoming more and more obvious that once again victory was not a possibility. A foul against Brionna Reece was the last Longhorn score, putting the team at 45 on the scoreboard while Unaka walked away with the win at 51.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.