When teams with serious aspirations of reaching the state basketball tournament begin their seasons, one goal squarely in front of their eyes is earning a home sectional game.
Science Hill, Elizabethton and Cloudland all reached that goal. Now they have to take advantage of it.
The three area girls teams will be in action tonight at 7 o’clock with a trip to the state tournament in Murfreesboro on the line. Science Hill will play host to Knox Farragut in Class AAA, Elizabethton battles Alcoa in Class AA, and Cloudland takes on Oliver Springs in Class A.
Going on the road will be Hampton to play Grace Christian Academy, and Tennessee High visiting Knox Bearden.
Here’s the rundown on each of the matchups:
Knox Farragut (28-4) at Science Hill (32-3) — There’s probably not much chance of the Lady Hilltoppers overlooking the Lady Admirals despite a pair of comfortable victories in the last two sectional matchups.
That’s because Farragut split with the Hilltoppers back in the summer.
“Our kids know at this time of year they need to play their best,” said Science Hill assistant coach Scottie Whaley, who filled in at practice Friday as head coach Darrell Barnwell was away to be with family after his father’s death. “They know Farragut is very good. Their kids are long, and they’re all between 5-8 and 5-11. They have really good size.”
Leading the way for Farragut are guard Madison Blevins and post Rebecca Jameson, who had 18 points in the 50-48 Region 2-AAA final loss to Knox Bearden.
Whaley said the Hilltoppers want the game to be up and down the court.
“We need a fast pace, as fast as we can get it,” he said. “And we really need to do a good job defensively getting into their guards.”
Science Hill is still dealing with some injury concerns as Keisha Gregory is questionable with an ankle injury. Shae Smith expects to play, but also has a hurt ankle.
Barnwell will be back to coach the Hilltoppers for tonight’s game.
“The kids have rallied around him,” said Whaley. “They like playing for him, and he treats them like family. We expect to go out and play well.”
Alcoa (21-11) at Elizabethton (27-4) — Lady Cyclones’ head coach Len Dugger said his team needs to take advantage of an opportunity it has earned.
“We worked hard to get into the substate,” said Dugger. “Now we need to seize the moment. The way this group has responded, I feel they understand what they are playing for.”
These teams met back on Nov. 27, and Elizabethton earned an 82-61 victory at Treadway Gym. Dugger said the Lady Tornadoes showed some things offensively in that contest.
“Offensively they have a good club,” said Dugger. “They scored 22 points in the first quarter. I feel like they have a group of kids who all play hard.”
In the Region 2-AA championship loss to Christian Academy of Knoxville, Katie Stubblefield led Alcoa with 15 points. Hannah Tate had 11 and Tiffanie Moore totaled nine.
Elizabethton counters with seniors Reazyn DeMoss and Whitney Roberts, junior Sarah Bradley, and freshmen twins Kelci and Kayla Marosites.
Dugger said it goes back to his two mainstays.
“Playing defense and rebounding,” he said. “And we have to take care of the ball and limit turnovers. And I sure would like to see us shoot it well again.”
Tennessee High (26-6) at Knox Bearden (23-8) — These teams met on the same floor in this game back in 2009, with the Lady Vikings pulling off a 49-45 victory.
Neither team has returned to this level since that game.
Four of Tennessee High’s losses came against Science Hill, one was against Elizabethton, and the other was against an out-of-state team.
Oliver Springs (22-8) at Cloudland (23-11) — The Lady Highlanders have gotten to this point because of inspired play from posts Brooke Rhodes and Courtney Wilson.
If they get another big game from the duo, they’re probably headed to Murfreesboro. But for that to happen, Cloudland’s guards — including Martina Presnell and Kendal Mull — will have to handle Oliver Springs’ pressure.
“(The Lady Bobcats) are not very big,” said Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield. “They press a lot and change defenses a lot. They are small and fast.
“I think it’s a game our guards will have to play really well and handle their pressure. If we get it down there, we should have an advantage inside.”
Both teams have an extensive sectional history. Since 2001 Cloudland has been in this game eight times, winning four and losing four. Two of those losses were to Oliver Springs, once at home and once on the road.
Since 2002, Oliver Springs has made seven sectional appearances. The Lady Bobcats made it to the state tournament four straight years from 2006-09.
“They have tradition, too,” said Birchfield. “They’ve been in this game a lot.”
Birchfield said he likes having the game at Sonny Smith Gym.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, having the home crowd and being comfortable,” he said. “We need to keep the game in perspective and just go play like at any other time, and not let it get too big. It’s a game of runs and emotions.”
Oliver Springs is led by twin guards Emily Griffith and Rachel Griffith. Keeping them in check will be a key, said Birchfield.
“I just feel like we need to set the tone defensively,” he said. “We’ve got to get stops and be patient with their changing defenses, and take care of the ball.”
Hampton (26-9) at Grace Christian (23-9) — Without leading scorer Dorothy Dugger, the Lady Bulldogs won’t be favored. However, they knocked out North Greene under the same circumstances in the regional semifinals.
Dugger suffered a late-season knee injury, but the Bulldogs have battled to the doorstep of the state tournament.
Hampton reached this point in 2006, 2009 and 2010, winning twice. Meanwhile, Grace won its first regional tournament game in school history this year. So this is new territory for the Lady Rams.
They are led by freshman Sydney Duggins, who was the Region 2-A most valuable player. Other keys include posts Katherine Griffith and Lauren Hensley, and guard D’anna Johnson.