Although it wasnt a win, the Lady Longhorns played what is possibly their most successful and certainly most exciting game of the season last Monday night against the Hampton Lady Bulldogs. Having faced horrible defeats against Hampton twice already this year, fans came into the game with subdued expectations despite the home court advantage. However, as the game moved into its first quarter and the Lady Longhorns not only began competing but also surpassing their opponents, interest steadily built all the way down to the final minute of the fourth quarter when it was still anyones game.
The big difference this time around was the new found confidence and steadily building experience of Johnson Countys younger players. Sophomores like Amanda Potter and Kourtney Tolley carried an air of battle hardened toughness that was absent earlier in the season, and with even freshmen players like Michala Cretsinger stepping up to fill vital roles, Johnson County put up a fight worth remembering.
In contrast, the Bulldogs relied heavily on primary offensive shooter, Monica Olivera, who pushed Hampton to an early lead with a couple of quick baskets, one of which was a three pointer. Even so, Potter was able to put up a great showing on the defense and also landed several offensive rebounds throughout the game, while Tolley, Cretsinger, and fellow sophomore Kelsey Duperry all nailed back to back buckets to actually give Johnson County the lead 9-7. Three point shots from both senior Brooke Brown and Tolley, as well as a successful plus one combo by Cretsinger increased the lead to a whopping 17-7. Even with a last second long shot by the Bulldogs that closed the first at 17-10, there was a strong sense of amazement and even disbelief at such a huge early upset.
We didnt play well at all, said Hampton Coach Bud Hazelwood. We played well maybe the last three minutes of the first half. We got into foul trouble but switched our defense there in the end and managed to shut them down the last four minutes. We played pretty well in those last four minutes, but really they outplayed us and out coached us.
The second quarter didnt go quite as well as the first, but with such a significant lead, the Lady Longhorns were able to hold on through an early run by Hampton that actually saw the Bulldogs regain control by one point, 18-19. While all four of those consecutive baskets were made by Olivera, Johnson County was able to quickly turn the tables again with a long-range shot from Brown. In fact, Brown made two more baskets that pushed the Lady Longhorns to 23 and left them in the drivers seat all the way down to the final minute before the half. Once again, Olivera came onto the scene and with a couple of final foul shots, helped the Bulldogs walk into the half ahead 23-26.
The third quarter remained heated from start to finish, with both teams trading back and forth and vying for control. Tolley hit a couple of big shots early on and was helped out by Potter at the net and Brown with a three pointer. The final straw came on a rebound from Cretsinger that tied up the game at 34 and eventually left Johnson County in the lead as a final shot by Brown right at the buzzer was deemed a foul. With those two free throws, the Lady Longhorns came into the fourth ahead 36-34.
Having done so well the whole game, Coach Todd Whittemore made a few gambles late in the game that could have given Johnson County the final upper hand, but as he pointed out many of the girls on the team havent had a lot of game time playing in a high pressure situation, a factor that played a prominent role in the final outcome. I do think in a close ballgame, in a big game late, weve got some girls that dont have a lot of past experience, Whittemore admitted. Theyre going through some of these things for the first time and its not easy. Youve got a very tenacious defensive minded team all up in your face and there are a whole lot of factors that go into being able to execute a play. They had given me so much confidence with the way they played I set those plays for giving our team the best chance to score. Those players deserve a play to be able to go through them. They earned that. Yeah, they might not have got it done tonight, but we went through it and came out the other side and at least those players know that I have confidence enough in them to run the plays.
As Whittemore referenced, the game remained close all the way down to the last minute where Johnson County was trailing by just two points 43-45. With a huge win on the line, the Lady Longhorns tried a few risky plays in an effort gain the upper hand, but ultimately ended up with a costly turnover.
With the deficit now at 43-47, foul trouble began to take effect, and in a disappointing last minute downfall Johnson County sent Hampton to the line four separate times while making just one single free throw of their own in answer. Forced to watch their chances at a final victory crumble away with the passing seconds, the Lady Longhorns still seemed pleased to have done as well as they did, undoubtedly giving the Lady Bulldogs a scare they had grossly underestimated.
We made those adjustments, won one, and maybe picked up a little confidence, Coach Hazelwood said. We guarded Brown a little better in the last few minutes, and got some big rebounds and made the shots when we had to, but its a good win. Anytime you can win in Johnson County its sweet because they play very well up here.
Johnson County 44
Brooke Brown 18
Kourtney Tolley 12
Amanda Potter 8
Michala Cretsinger 3
Kelsey Duperry 2
Gianna Lay 1