Whitley County’s Brandi Smith put end to one of the most impressive streaks in 13th Region history on Wednesday. A buzzer-beating layup from the junior guard handed four-time champion Clay County its first loss in four postseasons and lifted the Lady Colonels into the semifinals with a 56-54 win.
“We wanted the ball in Brandi’s hands late. It wasn’t exactly the way we designed it. They did a good job of denying it and she had to come and get it. When it comes down to the end you want your best player to have it,” said Whitley County coach Larry Anderson. “She did a good job of taking it to the hole.”
Whitley County led for much of the first quarter. The Lady Colonels drained four 3-pointers in the opening period, and Brandi Smith added another the old-fashioned way to make it 17-14 after one. Smith had six points in the period and finished with 24 to lead all scorers.
Clay’s dramatic size advantage kept it close in the period. The Lady Tigers grabbed four offensive rebounds, while their post trio accounted for 12 points to keep pace.
Whitley continued to drain one trey after another in the second quarter as it added to the lead. Smith and Anderson each had two more 3-pointers in the period as the advantage grew to nine points. Ajaycia Cotton hit a 3-pointer to pull Clay to within three with 27 seconds left, but Whitley closed with five straight points. Sierra Anderson delivered a trey with 16 seconds remaining and Taylor Dingess closed the half with a baseline floater as time expired to make it 38-29.
“Our game is to push the ball. We have to get out and pressure people, we have to push it and we have to shoot in the early offense. We shoot the three a lot and I think everybody knows that,” Anderson said.
The Lady Colonels led by as much as 11 in the third quarter before Clay County began to chip away. Dingess gave Whitley its largest lead with a 3-pointer with just over three minutes remaining. However, Whitley had only one basket the remainder of the period as the Lady Tigers rallied. Madden and junior forward Sara Robinson combined for five points in the final 1:40 to reduce the deficit to five.
“I thought they gave me a great effort tonight in the second half. We held them to 18 points in the second half after giving up 38 in the first half,” said Clay County coach James Burchell.
Clay continued to chip away to open the final period, and an offensive rebound putback from Madden tied the game at 50 miwday through the quarter. Smith put Whitley back in front with a basket in the paint on the ensuing possession and pushed the lead to four with a pull-up jumper. Senior Morgan Chesnut tied the game again with a basket from the paint with 1:06 left. Whitley then played for the last possession. The Lady Colonels ran a minute off the clock, before Smith began to attack the basket. Smith went around a screen and drove along the left baseline before going up with the winning basket as time expired.
“We just didn’t execute on the last play. We knew who wanted to shoot the ball. I said not to let (Smith) be the one to shoot the ball,” Burchell said. “She was on the right side of the floor. I wanted to push the ball left and try to trap, but we just didn’t do it. We let her have it in the corner and just didn’t do a good job of cutting the baseline off.”
The Lady Colonels have battled injuries throughout the season, but appear to getting healthier at the right time.
“When Jan. 7 started, for the next six weeks we had nobody there. It wasn’t until the first game of the district tournament that we started the same five that we started the season with,” Anderson said.
Whitley County (20-10) will face Bell County in the 13th Region semifinals on Saturday. The Lady Colonels fell 64-54 at Bell in the regular season finale. Clay County closes the season at 26-6.
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Whitley County (56) — Brandi Smith 24, Bethany Powers 0, Maria Johnson 15, Sabrina Sizemore 0, Kandace Craig 2, Taylor Dingess 8, Hallie Jones 7, Madison Centers 0.
Clay County (54) — Ajaycia Cotton 11, Talaura Mathis 3, Sara Robinson 4, Cheyenne Madden 17, Morgan Chesnut 14, Kelli Roberts 5, Lesley Roberts 0, Briana Smith 0.