Sometimes victory is all a matter of perspective, and even though the Lady Longhorns didnt actually come out ahead on the scoreboard against Sullivan South last Monday, it certainly felt like a win after it was all said and done. After facing more downs than ups this season, even against lower ranking opponents in the conference like Happy Valley, few would have anticipated the heart, dedication, and determination that Johnson Countys team displayed coming out against the Lady Rebels, one of the highest ranked teams. Surprisingly, it wasnt so much the strong veteran leadership of the team, as it was the younger players like Sophomores Kelsey Duperry, Amanda Potter, and Kourtney Tolley that actually tipped the balance and made the game truly competitive down to the last second.
Johnson County was hanging tough with South from the very first quarter. Tolley got on the board early with a short shot from the corner followed by a huge three-pointer from the center. South came back with a bucket of their own, but the Lady Longhorns were still happy to carry an early lead. Building some confidence after Kelsey Duperry picked up a basket plus one, the deficit nearly hit double digits at 13-4 before the Lady Rebels finally started bouncing back.
Duperry continued to show strong skills on the rebound, picking up yet another early basket, and Amanda Potter came in late to the period to do her part with two offensive rebounds that allowed Johnson County to close out ahead 17-13. South regained the lead after a short early run at the beginning of the second, but overall the whole first half went in Johnson Countys favor. A basket by Brooke Brown tied it back up at 19-19, and a huge steal by freshman Michala Cretsinger got the crowd on their feet and the lead back on the Lady Longhorns side of the scoreboard.
Although things began to slow down from there, even Coach Whittemore had to admit the game carried its own special sort of success. Im starting to assess my team based on how our crowd reacts, Whittemore said. Were not going to win every game, but we can still play with a winning attitude. If we can give our fans an hour and a half to two hours where they can forget about, how am I going to pay that light bill, how am I going pay that water bill, how am I going to buy new clothes for my kids were doing something right. You know as adults we have all this stuff on us, and Im trying to let our young girls understand that they love to come here and root for someone. Its not easy in the real world, but if for two hours you can have a team you root for, and stand up, and clap, and forget about some of the tough things in life, then that is bound to be worth it. I was proud of our girls. I was proud of them tonight.
By the end of the second Johnson County had dropped behind by four, with the last Lady Rebel basket coming right at the buzzer. Yet, the game was far from lost as Mary Taylor came into the third with a free throw that cut it to three and down to one with a shot by Tolley. Senior Brionna Reece finally came into the game to even the score at 31, but from that point down to the last minute it was a back and forth race for the lead. South came out on top by the end of the period, 38-41, but thanks to the quick thinking of Assistant Coach Rusty Chambers, Johnson County continued to stay in the game all the way through the fourth. My assistant Rusty Chambers was outstanding tonight, said Whittemore. He was a big part of it. My wife Robin was sick. She was at home. I needed him to step up and he really did. He was very helpful. He gave me some big ideas to use throughout the game, and thats why I wanted him here. I wanted him here for big games where I needed the help.
In fact, as far as plays and execution, Johnson County probably was the actual better team of the night. Brooke Brown continued to make progress for the Lady Longhorns throughout the fourth, but what really hurt the team was missed free throws, especially in the last couple of minutes. Making matters worse there were also several missed layups right under the goal, and with the two teams no more than five points apart through the last three quarters, those missed opportunities had lasting repercussions. A few bad calls didnt help the situation, although Coach Whittemore focused more on the direct actions of his team.
We had already faced that adversity the first four seconds of the game, Whittemore said. When we scored the first time I got a delay of game call. Thats a record. I have never had a delay of game call on the first score. Then we had five blocks before we got our first charge. But, say whatever you want about everything in the game, we missed three layups in the last minute, two free throws, and in the game total 9 free throws, and we only lost by four. Those are fixable things. You want to play so well that you dont allow the officials to affect the outcome. I had nothing personally, no problems with the officials tonight. I thought they worked hard. Like I said, when I look at this game and try to figure out how we could have won it has nothing to do with officials, it has to do with us putting the ball in the box and making three layups, or when no one is guarding you, making those nine free throws.
Both teams climbed into the upper 40s by the end of the fourth, with Johnson County always remaining just a couple of buckets of getting back in the drivers seat. Four of the Lady Longhorns missed foul shots came in the last minute of the game, ironically the same amount the team lost by at 46-50. Regardless of those critical last mistakes, Coach Whittemore still seemed very optimistic about what the game could mean to the Lady Longhorns future.
I thought we had a great start, Whittemore said. We needed that. It was really good for them. Tonight appears to feel like a positive step, but we really need to go to Unaka and get a win for us. Winning at Happy Valley would have been huge and we didnt, but, guess what, if you keep a positive attitude, if you keep plugging away, good things will happen. Tonight we didnt win. We didnt get over them, but we sure played well against a good team.
Johnson County 46
Sullivan South 50