After fighting through insurmountable odds this season, the Lady Longhorns finally wrapped up their final basketball game this year, battling through a tough Three Rivers Conference I-AA Quarterfinal matchup against the Sullivan South Lady Rebels. Being the fourth time that Johnson County has faced South this year after two regular season games and a Johnson City Honda Christmas Tournament blowout, the Lady Longhorns knew what to expect but held their heads high and kept playing down to the final buzzer.
Remarkably, with the notable exclusion of a poorly played third quarter, the Lady Longhorns put on a great show, holding South within range throughout the first and still finishing the half down by just 15. Factoring a huge fourth quarter drive that saw seven Johnson County buckets in a row, the Lady Longhorns might have had a much more competitive final result if it had not been for a troubling lag on the offense starting midway through the third quarter.
Prior to that point Johnson County had relied on senior Brooke Brown with support from players like Mackenzie Bauer, Michala Cretsinger, and Kelsey Duperry on offense. Bauer also played a big factor in the teams defense along with fellow Juniors Gianna Lay and Dawn Lewis. As has been the case all season, injuries had a big impact on the final outcome, with Kourtney Tolley forced to watch the game from the sidelines after injuring her wrist earlier in the week.
We could have quit, we could have gave up but we didnt, said Coach Todd Whittemore. We kept fighting. Everything happens for a reason, these injuries, the two players leaving the team. Brooke had four girls starting with her in December that arent playing right now, and shes never complained once. Brooke and I both have tried to set the example of never quit, never give up, persevere, keep trying, keep swinging, just refuse to quit. At this point its to show them down the stretch that life is going to throw some bad stuff your way, but how are you going to respond. These girls are going to remember that they didnt quit, that they kept fighting and that they had some kind of respect. I think everyone that plays in our league knows that we are down a lot of players and just the fact that we battled back makes me proud of them. If you can do that now like these girls did tonight and really this whole season, then when you get down by 30 in life you are going to be able to do it then as well. If you quit now and give up, then youre probably going to give up when life throws you a curveball.
The moral lesson of the game aside, Johnson Countys downfall began about two minutes into the third quarter. Buckets by Michala Cretsinger and Brooke Brown helped curb the growing tide from South, but after those two advances Johnson County did not score again until the very end of the period. In that span of time the Lady Rebels gained all the ground they needed for a sizeable points buffer, putting nearly 30 points between them by the start of the fourth.
With the hole dug that deep it would have been easy to quit, but as Whittemore already pointed out, Johnson Countys girls resolved to go down swinging. Kelsey Duperry really stepped up her game at the beginning of the fourth, landing an early basket followed by two free throws and another lay up. That was followed by a plus one effort from Bauer and a free throw from Gianna Lay. Yet, despite these early advances, the real drive came in the last two minutes when Brooke Brown got into a very successful run that saw a string of four more Johnson County baskets along with a couple of offensive rebounds and three free throws from Duperry. Coming in at the very end Kelsie Terrell managed the last shot of the game to bring Johnson Countys fourth quarter total to 21 points.
Yet, even that huge turnaround was not enough to handle the problems from earlier in the game, leaving Johnson County just 13 points shy of a win. Its just hard because before that we had some girls that were afraid to take chances because they didnt want to foul out, Whittemore said after the game. We are so thin that we have to be careful of our fouls, but by the fourth quarter they were just playing and I think it showed in our defense. We just couldnt get a good bounce early. Our shots were rimming out and it seemed like everything they shot went in. They were even bouncing three pointers off the rim. You dont see that very often, but Im very proud of these girls. Im proud of Brooke Brown number one for being a great leader. Shes one of the best leaders Ive ever coached in 20 years of coaching.
Final Score: Johnson County 41, Sullivan South 54
Brooke Brown 22
Kelsey Duperry 7
Mackenzie Bauer 5
Michala Cretsinger 4
Kelsie Terrell 2
Gianna Lay 1