Science Hill’s road to Murfreesboro once again went through Farragut, although this time it was a little rockier.
After easily handling Farragut in the Class AAA sectional each of the past two seasons, the Lady Hilltoppers clinched their third straight state tournament berth with a 68-60 defeat of the Lady Admirals on Saturday at Science Hill.
The state tournament draw will be held today at 3 p.m. Science Hill assistant Scottie Whaley, who will draw, and athletic director Keith Turner will go to Murfreesboro while head coach Darrell Barnwell attends his father’s funeral in Crossville.
Barnwell’s father, Herschel, died Wednesday, but Barnwell coached the Lady ‘Toppers (33-3) to a third straight regional title that night. The death wasn’t unexpected, and was part of an emotionally grueling season that’s included the expectations of getting back to Murfreesboro.
“I think tonight was the pressure game for us,” Barnwell said, “because if we don’t win tonight and don’t get back to the state tournament, even though we’ve had a great year, it’s not a success for this group and these kids. I thought we were a little bit nervous early on. We turned the ball over a little bit uncharacteristically, and I think that was part of it.”
A large crowd was certainly anxious most of the way against Farragut and senior 5-foot-9 wing Madison Blevins, who made four 3-pointers while scoring a game-high 24 points.
But senior wing Shy Copney (22 points, nine rebounds), junior point guard Tianna Tarter (21 points) and company were too much for Farragut to overcome.
A Rebecca Jameson (14 points) put-back got Farragut within 52-47 with 5:45 remaining, but Copney answered with two straight baskets – a driving leaner down the lane and a post-up move on the right block after an entry pass from the right wing from Enjelica Reid (11 points) which made it 56-47 with 4:20 left.
Farragut was no closer than seven the rest of the way until Blevins’ two free throws with 10 seconds left made it 66-60. The outcome seemed to be decided when Copney’s long, crisp, two-handed chest pass found Tarter in stride for a transition lay-up which made the score 65-55 with 36 seconds left.
Farragut coach Jason Mayfield had high praise for Copney and Tarter.
“She (Tarter) makes the show run and it’s hard to get her to turn the ball over,” he said. “We love to press and run and try to get up and down, but it’s hard to do that with her, because she can go by people. She’s not even looking to score, but she’ll score when she has to. …
“It’s tough because (Copney) can post – Madison Blevins did a heck of a job on her early on – but it’s just tough, because they wear on you and everybody else can score, too. We did a great job on their shooters (Morgan Knack and Keisha Gregory), I felt like, but (Copney) hit a few. I mean she’s coming off screens and she’s fading away – she’s just a great player.”
Copney has been steadily regaining wind all season after suffering a knee injury in the state semifinals last year.
“I’ve definitely got my wind back,” said Copney, who’s signed with Middle Tennessee State. “I feel like I can actually run now and go up and down the court with the team. Before, I could barely get past half court. I’m starting to feel like my old self again.”
Farragut made eight 3-pointers, including one Blevins banked in from the right win that cut Science Hill’s lead to 50-44 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We tried to get out and contest, but I mean, they just had a great night,” Barnwell said. “We were contesting. We forced them out even further from the 3-point line and they knocked down some threes. … That was their chance to stay with us is to knock down threes and they did.”
Tarter was quick to credit Farragut.
“They’re a good team,” she said. “They’re better than last year, I think. They’ve got good shooters, post players.”
Junior post Gabby Lyon had 11 points and two of Science Hill’s five blocks. Reid scored eight of her 11 in the second half.
Tarter and Copney each had two of Science Hill’s five treys. Gregory, in her first game back since injuring an ankle in the district tournament, had the other 3-pointer.
Barnwell said his players and assistants (Scottie Whaley, Ricky Conner, Tiffany Collins) have made a trying week bearable. Barnwell missed Friday’s practice to be with his family in Crossville.
“They understand the situation,” Barnwell said, “and they’ve been real good knowing that I had to be away and still being able to come in and do what they needed to do to focus on what we had to do tonight – and the other night, for that matter. Hopefully, we can get through tomorrow – through the draw and through everything I need to do – and next week be able to go down there and play well and put some things behind us ... and hopefully, you know, have a chance to win a state championship.”