As has been the case time and again, the odds were decidedly not in the Lady Longhorns favor as they came out at home against the Lady Blue Devils from Unicoi. That said, Johnson County still put up a memorable fight that kept them competitive through the majority of the game. The Lady Longhorns have developed a reputation for battling on even when the cards are down, and as Head Coach Todd Whittemore pointed out, that could be a valuable lesson not just on the court but in the bigger picture as well.
Things arent good right now but we just cant quit, cant give up, cant quit fighting, Whittemore said. Weve got to try to persevere. Like I told them in the locker room, this feels like a bad situation now but thats why weve got to keep fighting because when you get out of here in a few years the real world is going to slap you with some possibly worse situations and what are you going to do then. If you give up now, youll probably give up in life. Were just trying to stress that even though things arent going perfect for us we still have to keep fighting. Thats the only way good things can happen. Theres not going to be many of these girls play college ball. After high school thats it. Hopefully thats at least something I can teach them this year. If you dont quit now at least when life throws you a curve ball, youll have it in you not to quit then.
Remarkably that grim determination and single-minded desire to keep going actually paid off in the first half. Despite Unicois size, depth, and talent, Johnson County still managed to stay right with the Blue Devils all the way through the first quarter. While senior Brooke Brown had a typically successful night, breaking into the double digits with 16 points, one of the most notable players of the evening was sophomore Kourtney Tolley, who actually took the top scoring spot with 17, and got the Lady Longhorns stated on the board with a shot right under the net.
Brown followed up closely with a basket of her own, and Johnson County was off to a great start with a 4-2 lead. The defense did just about as well, with Mackenzie Bauer making a couple of huge critical steals, one of which became yet another shot for Tolley. In fact, Tolley and Brown were the only two players from Johnson County to actually claim a basket in the first, although they owed a lot of their open looks to players like Kelsey Duperry and Michala Cretsinger who worked hard to help get them in position.
By the end of the first, Johnson County was trailing by just two points at 12-14, a very positive early sign. The second went just about as well, with the addition of Bauer taking a few fouls and making several free throws. Unicoi managed to land a couple three-pointers to pull ahead as much as eight points, but with Tolley showing uncanny accuracy and a whole lot of toughness at post, the Lady Longhorns were able to cut it back to five at the half, 22-27.
Johnson Countys luck didnt hold out, and although the third quarter started off in their favor, the Lady Blue Devils went on a solid three minute run that saw them jump ahead by more than 15 points. The Lady Longhorns tried to keep up but by the time Brown put her team back on the board again, the damage was already done. With the clock ticking down to the last few seconds before the fourth, Johnson County landed the final basket but was still facing a 15-point deficit.
With that much difference between them, Unicoi continued to press their advantage in the final eight minutes. Both Tolley and Brown earned foul shots to kick off the fourth, but after reaching 33 the team went on a two minute dry spell that only made things that much worse. In contrast, Unicoi was able to start climbing their way through the 50s, and with more than 20 points difference and only two minutes left in the game, Coach Whittemore started changing up the lineup. As a result, junior Dawn Lewis was the last player from Johnson County to claim a bucket, nailing a free throw to finish up 38-68.
Those difficult last few minutes aside, Coach Whittemore actually seemed fairly satisfied with the overall performance of his players, especially considering the notable absence of Amanda Potter and Gianna Lay. Obviously we are a wounded animal right now with our injuries and our suspensions, Whittemore said. Im proud of our girls, they fought hard. We played only five of them for three quarters, and for two and a half quarters we battled and competed. We just have to keep plugging away.
Johnson County 38,
Kourtney Tolley 17
Brooke Brown 16
Mackenzie Bauer 2
Kelsey Duperry 2
Dawn Lewis 1