Jenna Potts made five 3-pointers while scoring a game-high 17 points and the Lady Trojans made 9 of 12 free throws in the final 92 seconds to pull away for a 52-43 upset in the Region 1-AAA semifinals.
West (28-3) clinched a sectional berth and will play for the right to host a sectional when it takes on Jefferson County on Wednesday in the regional championship.
The Lady Patriots defeated Dobyns-Bennett, 54-35, in the nightcap.
Science Hill, which ended the season at 31-1, was without Tarter, who was serving the first of what would’ve been a two-game suspension for two technical fouls received during Saturday’s win against Seymour.
Coach Johnny Galyon’s Lady Trojans face-guarded and shadowed Gregory, who was held without a field goal and finished with one point. Punctuating what was essentially a four-quarter funk – and one that West’s effort helped generate – Science Hill made two unforced turnovers down the stretch on simple passes from the top of key to the wing.
“We couldn’t get any rhythm,” Science Hill coach Keith Turner said. “I mean, you’ve gotta give credit to West. … It wasn’t nothing that surprised us. It was stuff that we knew they were gonna do and things that we worked on. But they just did an incredible job executing and taking Keisha completely out of the mix. …
“It’s a big difference having the floor general out there. I mean, there’s a lot of things that they wouldn’t be able to do defensively if she (Tarter) was out there. She makes everything easier. So I mean, that’s obvious, and they knew that.”
Potts, a 5-foot-6 catch-and-shoot wing, was the difference. Four of her 3-pointers came in the third quarter, including one that beat the buzzer to give the Lady Trojans a 35-34 lead.
“She’s been in a zone maybe the last month and a half or so,” Galyon said. “And that’s what she does well. She doesn’t run well. She doesn’t jump well. She’s not big. But she can shoot that thing.”
Potts scored 12 of the Lady Trojans’ 14 points in the third quarter. She answered two Science Hill baskets with back-to-back treys after spotting up in the left corner in transition during a 35-second span early in the quarter and added two more in the final 80 seconds of the period.
“I thought that was the crucial turning point in the game when we lost their shooter,” Turner said. “At one point she’d hit four threes and (was) about the only one that’d scored. She’s a stand-still shooter, but they executed their game plan and we didn’t.”
Science Hill senior post Gabby Lyon, a Middle Tennessee signee, scored 15 of her 16 points in the second half. Her steal and lay-up gave the Lady Toppers their last lead (37-36) with 7:44 remaining. It was the first fast-break basket for the Lady Hilltoppers, who normally thrive in transition.
Lyon’s 6-foot straight-on bank got Science Hill within 39-38 with three minutes left, but it was the last field goal for the Lady ‘Toppers.
“I could definitely tell the whole game they wanted it more,” Lyon said. “We didn’t come out and execute and do what we were supposed to do. So we lost.”
Galyon stressed being the aggressor to his players, and they responded. Particularly pleasing to him was how they didn’t flinch after Science Hill jumped out to a 10-3 lead thanks, in part, to two 3-pointers from senior guard Grace Herrin (nine points).
“They hit two threes in a row and we didn’t let up,” Galyon said. “I thought we fought back and that was the key in the game. … This is one of those games where I thought we won the 50-50 balls and that was really important, because they’re bigger than us, they’re faster than us and they’re stronger than us. … But I thought our kids showed a lot of heart.”
Morristown West has been without point guard Abbe Craine (ACL) since the second week of January. The Lady Hilltoppers beat West 55-37 in the season opener when Tarter and Craine played, and had since won 30 straight.
“They’re phenomenal, and it hurts me to see them not in a substate (sectional) situation,” Galyon said, “because I know that’s one of those teams that can win it all (with Tarter). But we’re not gonna play it to lose. We’re gonna try to win, too.”
Guard Hailey Seals was 6-for-6 at the foul line for West and scored all 10 of her points in the fourth quarter.
Backup point guard Abbey True made two treys for Science Hill, which had two state runner-ups and a state semifinal appearance during the careers of Lyon, Tarter and fellow seniors Baylee Head, Herrin and Melea Fenley.
“I’ll definitely remember my high school experience and I’m very thankful to have had coaches like this,” Lyon said. “I’m just ready to move forward and see what college has in store for me.”
After seeing what Science Hill looked like without her, Tarter’s college options should continue to swell.
Senior 6-foot-1 post Alex Anderson scored 13 points in Dobyns-Bennett’s season-ending loss. Senior guard Madi Kilby and junior point guard Sasha Morrisette added nine and eight points, respectively.
Makaila Woolard scored 15 points to lead Jefferson County (21-9). Autumn Dodson added 11.