JC’s entire team listen to head coach Leon Tolley during their final timeout of the game against South Greene. Tolley led the team to 23 wins the most in school history this year.
By Tim Chambers
GREENEVILLE—in a season of ups and downs, the rollercoaster ride ended in heartbreaking fashion at South Greene. The Lady Longhorns fell 63-59 on Friday in a game they could have won and probably should have.
They held a slim 59-58 with 42 seconds remaining and were going to force South Greene to “foul. But they took an ill-advised three-point shot, which they missed on that opened up the door for the Lady Rebels.
Hailey Kress, who fired in a game-high 24 points and a 3-ball with seconds remaining to give the Lady Rebels a one-point lead after they had trailed for most of the game and nearly the entire fourth quarter. The Rebels would have elected to foul Johnson County, and they held the ball and sent them to the foul line where they had been successful all night long.
“We were right where we wanted to be,” said head coach Leon Tolley. “We had the ball and a one-point lead, and we just made a bad decision and took an ill-advised shot because they were going to foul us. You hate to see a team lose in a game like this, but I told our kids that I couldn’t be any more proud of them for the way that they battled. You walk into here, and it’s like the Mecca of high school girl’s basketball with all their gold ball state championship trophies. We showed no fear, and I’m not sure the best team on the court won tonight.”
The Lady Horns trailed 15-12 after one-quarter of play but rallied to take a 30-27 lead at the half. Emmy Miller had nine first-half points that included 5-of-5 from the foul line to lead the charge while Hazlee Kleine came off the bench to score seven that included 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. South Greene would pull even in the third quarter, but Taylor Parsons put them back in front by hitting a jumper with 7:20 remaining that made the score 38-33. Both teams went cold from the field as the next points weren’t scored until the 3:46 mark than Kress tied the game with a long trey.
Free throws by Miller in the next seconds allowed the Horns to stay even at 42, all heading into the final quarter.
Johnson County continued to play inspired basketball in the final quarter. Parson tossed in four points but did have five rebounds in the frame. The catalyst was Abby Cornett Natalie Winters. Cornett scored nine points in the game, with six coming in the final frame that included a key three-ball and 3-of-3 from the foul line. Winters, despite only scoring two points in the game, had great floor vision and pinpoint accuracy over the final eight minutes. She collected two steals and dished out four assists from her point guard position.
The Lady Horns won everything but the final scored. They ended the game by shooting a phenomenal 23-of-26 from the foul line but unfortunately couldn’t get there at the end when it mattered most. What did matter is that the Lady Longhorns won a school-record of 23 games and made the regional tournament for the first time in 24 years.
Leon Tolley is had turned the Lady Longhorns into a respectable basketball program and needs to be saluted. He lost his leading scorer Taylor Cox (18 points per game) late in the year and still managed to make the regional. That itself is a great accomplishment for him and his kids and coaching staff. There is some good news. Emmy Miller, who led the Lady Horns with 16 points and ten rebounds, returns next season, as does Sadie Stout, who finished the game with 15 points and seven boards.
The bad news is that super-sub Abby Cornett, leading scorer Taylor Cox, blue-collar players Parsons and Winters do not return along with Hazlee Kleine, who was coming into her own by season’s end all must be replaced.
Rhiannon Icenhour, who finished with five points, will return for her senior season and should be a force on the inside, hoping to make up for the absence of Parsons and Kleine in the paint.
The senior class of Lady Longhorns could go down as the best all-time ever classes to play sports by the time softball season is over. So Go Lady Longhorns. Thank you for the magical ride you took us on in a year where boy’s basketball was not what we were used to seeing. Tolley closed the season with this.
Hopefully, the girls in Johnson County when they are growing up will realize that they can still think about softball and volleyball, but they can also shoot a little basketball and dream of playing for the Lady Longhorns because we can be a pretty good basketball program if all the athletes will come out. These girls on this team deserve to be remembered because they changed the tide and showed people that they could play.”
JOHNSON COUNTY (59)
Miller 16, Stout 13, Cornett 12, Parsons 6, Winters 2, Kleine 7, Icenhour 5