The Lady Longhorns began their first round of the Three Rivers Conference District Tournament against the Happy Valley Friday night in Elizabethton. After playing two close regular season games, Johnson County was ready to pull out all the stops against the Lady Warriors, and despite the fact that few other teams know Johnson Countys plays quite so well as Happy Valley, an exciting first three quarters seemed to spell out a Lady Longhorn victory.
Coach Todd Whittemore did an excellent job of slowing the game down and keeping the momentum throughout the first half, making every effort to introduce subtle changes in some of his tactics and use of the lineup to try and keep the Lady Warriors in the dark as much as possible. The strong showing throughout the game was truly a team effort, with Brooke Brown being the top scorer at 12 points. Most of those baskets came from Browns six assists and four steals, while sophomore Mary Taylor wasnt far behind with 10 points.
Working together, Johnson County had built up a 23-15 lead by the beginning of the third quarter. A strong defense was key to keeping Happy Valley away from the net, but even then there was a little luck involved as many of the Lady Warriors long-range shots missed their mark. Regardless, Johnson County struggled on throughout the third quarter to maintain their lead, and although Happy Valley did make some advancements, baskets by Sarah Swift, Brandy Dugger, and Brionna Reece worked to offset and frustrate the Lady Warriors. Even then, Happy Valley managed to cut the deficit to just four points in the last minute of the period, only to be pushed back up by a basket plus one from Reece to close out at 32-25.
Having led the entire game, by the fourth quarter Lady Longhorns were ready to make a last push to wrap up what could have been their first tournament win in years. Unfortunately, with every passing minute of that last period Happy Valley edged closer and closer to taking over the lead. Things got off to a good start with a basket by Brown upping Johnson Countys cushion to seven at 34-27, but with the Warriors coming back with one of their own just seconds later, there was a growing shift in momentum.
Back-to-back shots from Brandy Dugger and Kourtney Tolley prolonged Johnson Countys lead at 38-33, but were also soon undermined by two more Happy Valley buckets. This back and forth tradeoff might have still given Johnson County the victory had it not been for a huge turning point with just 1:37 on the clock. Getting a clean look, the Lady Warriors were able to finally land a three-pointer cutting the lead back to four, only to be followed by a basket plus one 30 seconds later.
With just one point between them and less than a minute in the game, every single possession became essential. As the clock ticked away neither side advanced, and the last 20 seconds in particular became a real nail biter, made all the more suspenseful as a critical Happy Valley turnover gave Longhorn fans a little more hope. Taking it in with just 14 seconds left, a trip to the foul line for Mary Taylor could have been Johnson Countys saving grace. Unfortunately, at two for nine, foul shots had plagued the Lady Longhorns all evening and this time was no exception.
With Taylors shot missing the basket, the ball went back to the Lady Warriors, but even at this late stage there was one more opportunity. An out-of-bounds ball with 11 seconds in play gave Johnson Countys Sarah Swift one last shot at a free throw after she was fouled with nine seconds still in the game. The Johnson County corner of the gym was completely silent as the ball flew through the air, rolled around the rim, and failed to go in.
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