By Trey Williams
Press Sports Williams
BRISTOL – Science Hill’s basketball teams encountered rough sledding on a snow day Friday at Tennessee High, but both escaped Viking Hall with Big Eight Conference winning streaks still on track.
The Lady Hilltoppers, ranked No. 13 nationally, were staring at a stunning 17-1 deficit six minutes into the first quarter, but rallied for a 65-57 victory.
The Hilltoppers, ranked No. 3 in the state, sputtered through the Vikings switching defenses for a 51-41 win, which was their 50th straight regular-season league victory.
The Lady ‘Toppers have won 34 consecutive conference games in the regular season, although the streak appeared over early.
Tireless Tennessee High senior guard Ashley Mitchell piled up 26 points, seven steals, seven rebounds and seven assists, and the VCU signee made a 3-pointer and two free throws via an offensive rebound to cap the Lady Vikings’ (7-2, 16-4) 17-1 game-opening run.
Science Hill junior post Gabby Lyon scored seven of her 13 points in the second quarter to help the Lady ‘Toppers (19-2, 9-0) get within 30-25 by halftime.
As lackadaisically as Science Hill had played most the first two quarters, its narrow deficit seemed like it might send the wrong message to the Lady ‘Toppers.
Indeed, Tennessee High immediately stretched the lead to 37-25 in the third quarter with a three-point play from Sydney Mitchell and two transition baskets from Ashley Mitchell.
But Science Hill answered with an 18-0 run. Lyon started it with a steal and an assist on a Tianna Tarter (13 points) transition basket. Enjelica Reid (11 points) and Morgan Knack (12 points, three 3-pointers) each had six points during the decisive run.
“We pulled it out in the end and we played as a team at the end,” Lyon said. “We didn’t come out mentally ready to play. They did.”
The Lady ‘Toppers stretched the lead to 54-42 on a transition trey from Tarter with 6:37 left, and Tarter’s short baseline floater made it 56-44 with 4:38 to go.
The Lady Vikings did get as close as six points twice in the final 1:42, including when Kelsey Stoops’ 3-pointer made it 59-53 with 1:42 remaining.
“We knew they were playing a lot better, and our intensity level wasn’t good at first and theirs was,” Science Hill coach Darrell Barnwell said. “And we made some bad mistakes turning the basketball over, especially there in the early going, and they capitalized on those mistakes.
“I take my hat off to them, because they did a great job defensively just playing with a lot of intensity. … They just fought for every loose ball and every rebound, and got a lot of them.”
Mitchell was everywhere, even when it appeared the effort was essentially in vain.
“She’s a great player,” Barnwell said. “I understand why VCU’s got her coming there. … She’s hard to guard, being able to put it on the floor.”
Stoops scored 11 points for the Lady Vikings, whose 17-1 lead had Science Hill fans restless in their seats before the first quarter was finished.
“I felt like with that lead we had a chance to keep it close at the end,” Tennessee High coach Barry Wade said. “But you know, they’re so dangerous. … We played hard enough to win. About a four-minute stretch, you know, cost us the ballgame. Went a little brain dead defensively, but sometimes when you play young kids that happens.”
Science Hill 51
Tennessee High 41
Reed Hayes had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a league win that stretched the Hilltoppers’ streak to 50. Science Hill hasn’t lost a regular-season conference game since the league opener of the current seniors’ freshman season – a home loss to Sullivan South.
“It’s been an amazing run,” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “We never set out with the purpose of having a winning streak like this. … That’s a huge accomplishment.”
Hayes made six straight free throws in the final 48 seconds. Hunter Jones’ 3-pointer got the Vikings (3-6, 13-10) within 47-41 with 38 seconds left.
C.J. Good scored 13 points and Calvin Songster had 10. Will Adams had nine points, including a driving lay-up on an isolation after Science Hill pulled the Vikings out of a zone. It gave the Hilltoppers a 42-35 lead with three minutes left.
“I don’t know if all four of us together could get out there and guard him,” Tennessee High coach Roby Witcher said. “He’s a hard kid to guard. He’s been a nemesis for us for three years.”
Freshman Patrick Good had seven assists for Science Hill (9-0, 25-2).
Forward Adam Mitchell led Tennessee High with 13 points.