After struggling, fighting, and clawing their way to the very end of more games than they care to remember only to come up with a loss at the end of the night, the Johnson County Lady Longhorns finally did what they have been trying to do all season, significantly defeat a strong regional opponent. Having lost to the Unaka Lady Rangers earlier in the season at home, Johnson County was fired up as they came into Stoney Creek, playing a game that at times looked more like a wrestling match than it did a basketball game.
Time and again the Lady Rangers would battle back only to have the Lady Longhorns widen the distance. I guess the key point in the game was us playing well, together, and once we got a lead tonight we didnt give it back up, said head coach Todd Whittemore. They gave up the fouls we wanted. We tied it 9-9 and then when we pulled ahead we stayed ahead. In the fourth quarter we had a 12 point lead and they cut it to five, which was a familiar area that we had been in before, but it seems like we figured some things out and even after a double foul, and an intentional foul at that, going against us we played good D. We rebounded well, we didnt turn the ball back over, and I thought for the most part we executed well. We got the shots that we wanted, they didnt all go in, and we have to keep working on offensive rebounding, but I thought we got some great looks.
The first quarter was a little sluggish and fairly typical for what the Lady Longhorns have come up against all year. After battling hard for possession of the ball Mary Taylor received the first of six trips to the foul line for the night, finally allowing her team to tie up the score at nine. A lead couldnt be secured at this early stage and the Lady Rangers eventually jumped ahead with 12. The game tied up again in the second at 17, also from foul shots, this time by Sarah Swift, and with another foul on Mary Taylor Johnson County finally took the lead.
Holding Unaka at 20, Johnson County was able to go into a big end of the quarter run that allowed them to close the half leading by eight. The intensity only ramped up in the third quarter, and with tensions and tempers flaring from both sides, the Lady Longhorns began to solidify their efforts as a team, taking this particular game very personally.
We played aggressive, said Coach Whittemore. Were getting to the point with this team that we know what our strengths are and if well be smart and patient we can kind of pick the defense apart a little bit. Thats what happened last night as well as tonight. We were doing what we wanted to do offensively. We figured out what they were doing defensively and we went with what we thought was the best stop against it. To bend tonight and not break was wonderful. Im so happy for these girls
While the drive to win worked for Johnson County offensively, there was also a notable increase in foul trouble for both sides. Even players like Mary Taylor, who are more often on the receiving end of a foul, were getting fired up and into the action. Taylor went so far as to have a technical called against her, although the girls from Unaka were just as guilty.
I didnt really mean to get that intentional, Taylor said. I mean, I was mad. They were making me mad, especially number 34. She ran down the court, pushed me down and just kept on and on, which did make me mad. We really wanted to beat them bad. They beat us the last time and we really wanted to win really bad today. We want to win every game, but we just played together as a team tonight. The five of us out there just connected. I thought we played really well together. Anytime I got ticked off, they would say calm down, youve got this and that would help until something else happened. I just walked away and the refs asked me if I was okay, but I would tell them everything was fine. It actually helped to be able to rub it in their face after they fouled me, just to prove a point to them.
Taylor wasnt the only player from Johnson County to get a serious foul called against her. After getting shoved down herself, Brandy Dugger had a hard time keeping her temper late in the third, ultimately ending up in a double foul that angered Unakas coach almost as much as the players. The Lady Longhorns were able to contain themselves for the most part and with trips to the foul line abounding, had clearly pulled into a strong lead by the beginning of the fourth at 33-25.
With Brooke Brown, Brionna Reece, and Sarah Swift working the offense Johnson County was able to maintain that lead all the way down to the buzzer, despite a strong Lady Ranger comeback late in the game. Even after Unaka had managed to cut a double-digit lead down to just five points, Johnson County still had a few tricks up their sleeve as Coach Whittemore pointed out. It came down to where the game was still on the line and we run this out of bounds play and its a variation that Sarah and Brionna came up with, Whittemore said.
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