ELIZABETHTON—Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Lady Longhorns’ basketball program, but a 24-year drought is finally over. The girls won their first district tournament game in more than two decades by knocking off Sullivan East 64-60 on Wednesday night inside of Bayless Gymnasium at Happy Valley High School. It was a magnificent performance by Lady Horns who are still without Taylor Parsons, their second-leading scorer and rebounder. Head coach Leon Tolley and his assistant coaches; Garry Smith and Kechia are to be commended for elevating the program to where it is in such a short time.
In “Bob, the builder” fashion they came up with the perfect blueprint to not only end the drought but to beat a team who had defeated them twice during the regular season. It was a hard puzzle to piece according to Tolley.
“Even though we had Parsons out and Sadie Stout was sick, I used an old J.C. Campbell quote that I’ve seen sicker cats get well quick,” said Tolley. “The thing they did tonight played hard, and they played for each other. They believed they could win. We made some shots and got a lot of confidence, but every time we tried to pull away, East came back. The first two times that happened this year we wilted and died, but sometimes you’ve got to get tired of losing before you are ready to win. I’m glad tonight they got tired of losing. To see the look on their faces after the game was worth it all. We’re happy to be coming back tomorrow night.”
The Lady Horns sprang out of the gate early by taking a 9-4 lead capped off the Taylor Cox’s steal and layup at the 3:02 mark. Cox and Emmy Miller had four points, and Sadie Stout knocked down a three, but the Horns tailed 12-11 after East closed the frame on an 8-2 run.
The second quarter resulted in a big momentum swing for the Lady Longhorns.
They opened the quarter with Stout sinking a three-ball and four quick points by Cox to grab a 19-12 advantage. Winters put them up by double digits by knocking down a trey that made it 24-14 with 3:13 left before halftime.
East would whittle away at the deficit using five points by Emma Aubrey to try and get closer. They trailed the Horns 26-22 at intermission.
Johnson County (14-15) needed a strong offensive showing in the third quarter to keep pace with the Lady Patriots. Winters and Hazlee Kleine had early buckets that held the lead safe while Cox and Miller combined for 13 points in the frame.
The Lady Longhorns held a 45-39 lead going into the final frame and appeared bound and determined to end the 24-year drought with a district win.
East tried to get back in the game by applying some full-court pressure defense, but the Horns simply threw the ball over top of it.
Cox made it 49-40 by hitting one of her two breakaway layups, and she also hit some clutch free throws down the stretch.
“We were finding the gaps in their defense, and everybody did a great job of passing the ball,” said Cox. “We were trying to look for the open shots, and we played tonight as a team because we didn’t want East to beat us again.”
East sliced the deficit to 61-58 with 45 seconds remaining on Kylee Wolfe’s three but Winters and Cox hit three of four free throws that gave the Horns a 64-58 advantage.
A huge factor in the win was the six points scored in the fourth quarter by Abby Cornett. She hit a basket and two free throws after East had got within one possession twice of trying the game.
“Coach Tolley told us to settle down once they cut it to three and play the way we were capable,” added Winters. “I thought Abby (Cornett) played a good game and so did Hazlee Kleine and Rhiannon Icenhour. That was important without Taylor Parsons being able to play. We wanted to win this one for her and our coaches.”
Tolley applauded the play of everyone.
“Abby played well down the stretch, but our entire team did. I thought both teams played well. We just got lucky and made another play or two. Our bench was as thin as a pauper’s wallet, but we somehow managed to survive.”
The win was sweet for the Horns who lost 51-40 at home to the Lady Patriots and 55-48 back on Feb. 5 inside the
Dyer Dome. The Horns had the lead in that game before being overtaken down the stretch.
“We’ve had the lead in the fourth quarter in several of our games,” added Tolley. We would play not to lose, but tonight we kept playing to win.”
East head coach Allen Aubrey was quick to compliment Tolley and his team for their outstanding play.
“You have to give Johnson County all the credit. Leon does just a fabulous job with them. They deserved to win. They played better than us.”
Tolley felt like the girls rallied behind Parsons who will miss the remainder
of the season. They did it with a well-balanced scoring attack.
Cox led the way with 21 points and five rebounds. Miller added 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while Winters contributed 10 points and four assists with Stout logging eight points in limited minutes due to the flu. Cornett gathered six points and three steals.
“I wasn’t about to miss the game,” said Stout. “We hadn’t won a tournament game in 24 years, so I wanted to be a part of ending that. I’m glad our team was able to make history. I’m happy for our coaches and fans.”
Freshman Hayley Grubb fired in 20 points for the ‘Pats while her classmate Riley Nelson provided 10 points and eight rebounds. Mattie Gouge had nine points on three treys. Emma Aubrey and Wolfe collected eight points apiece.
Miller said the team would be ready for Unicoi County on Thursday.
“Our team knows what it takes to win a big tournament game,” said Miller. “We beat Unicoi County over there, and they got us at our place. We definitely want to make the regional tournament. That would be a great thing of our basketball team.”
District 1-AA tournament
Johnson County 64,
Sullivan East 60
JOHNSON COUNTY (64)
Cox 21, Miller 14, Winters 10, Stout 6, Cornett 6,
Kleine 2, Icenhour 3, Eshelman 0.
SULLIVAN EAST (60)
Grubb 20, Nelson 10, Gouge 9, Aubrey 8,
Wolfe 8, Honaker 5
JCHS 11 9 25 19 -64
Sullivan E. 12 10 17 21 -60
3-point goals—JC 5 (Stout 2, Cox 2, Winters 1) East 7 (Gouge 3, Wolfe 2, Aubrey 2)