The Johnson County Lady Longhorns have had a very tough season so far, falling into a pattern where very few of their games were more than 10 points away from a win, and the vast majority within reach all the way down to the last minute. That was the way Johnson Countys first match up against the Lady Falcons from Volunteer High School went; even playing on their home court didnt seem to change much when the two teams faced off again last week in Mountain City.
Putting together a strategy to try and shut down one of the Lady Falcons best offensive players, head Coach Todd Whittemore was hopeful that his team might be able to make up for their narrow 6 point loss earlier in the year, but as the Coach pointed out, even the best laid plans dont necessarily equate victory.
Our game plan was to run a little jump defense on number 52, Whittemore said. Over her last four games shes been averaging over 25-30 points with 15 or 16 rebounds. We felt if we could get her in foul trouble, or frustrated and out of the game, that we could stand a great chance, and we did. We had her fouled out with five minutes left to play. We held her to 7 points and thats their best player. If you had told me before the game that we could be down 2 points, with five minutes to play, and their big girl was fouled out, I would take those odds with any team in northeast Tennessee, but instead of our girls salivating like they had a steak dinner or a lobster right in front of them we got passive.
The whole first half of the game was a back and forth battle where neither side made any real headway. Scoring for the Longhorns was fairly even across the board, with Brandy Dugger, Brionna Reece, Sarah Swift, and Brooke Brown all contributing to the effort. There were multiple occasions where the score was tied, especially in the first quarter where just about every shot that Johnson County took Volunteer answered with their own. A short spree in the last minute of the first period allowed the girls to gain a 4 point lead, but just as quick the Lady Falcons landed a big 3 pointer to close out the quarter behind by one at 13-12.
The trend continued through much of the second quarter as well, making exception for a small lag in the first couple of minutes where Johnson County fell behind by 6. The break was short lived, however, and starting with a bucket from Sarah Swift the Lady Longhorns were back in the groove. Yet, while they did not fall any father behind, the score at halftime was still down by 3 at 24-27.
Volunteer worked hard to stay ahead during the third but a couple of trips to the foul line helped Johnson County get back on track, landing some very accurate free throws thanks to Brionna Reece. Overall, the quarter became a battle of defense and neither side made too much progress with Johnson County picking up just 6 points and 2 points behind Volunteers 8 points. In the end the Lady Falcons did prevail by 5 before the clock could run out at a score of 30-35.
Many of those critical fouls were against Johnson Countys target player, helping to finally earn her fifth just 3 minutes into the fourth quarter. Our goal was to get the big girl, number 52, out of the game because last game she destroyed us, said Brooke Brown. Thats why we thought we lost the game last time. Once we got her out of there and got all pumped up with five minutes to go we didnt play as hard. I guess we thought because she was out of the game we didnt have to play as hard and it just fell apart. I think if we just put more heart into it and go just a little bit harder we can get over this hump, but just seems to not be clicking with us right now.
Things were going well for the Lady Longhorns right up to the last two minutes. Starting off down by 7 Johnson County had battled back to a score of 36-40 with just over five minutes remaining. Having worked hard to keep the score close throughout the game, and having removed their opponents best player from the court, things looked pretty good for the Longhorns, but as Coach Whittemore pointed out, everything went terribly wrong.
Ill tell you how proud I am when they are doing well but Im not proud of how we closed this game out tonight, Whittemore said. Im very disappointed. Im disappointed for the fans; Im disappointed for people paid to see us play like that down the stretch. They did what they were supposed to do. They got that girl out of the game and it was the rest of their team without their best player and we had everybody. There are no excuses for that. We made sloppy passes, we missed lay ups, we didnt pump fake, we fouled, there were silly turnovers. We were not moving over and stopping the drive. It was a four-point game and one of their girls dribbles down through when one of our starters just moves out of the way. Then another one fouls her and they go up 7 and thats it.
Even in the last minute there was still a chance. Down only 5 at 41-46, Whittemore struggled to get his team on track, but to no avail. With three consecutive trips to the foul line, the Lady Falcons were able to turn a 5-point lead into a 10-point lead in less than 60 seconds. In the end, like many of the games Johnson Countys girls have played this year, victory simply slipped through their fingers.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.