Reigning state semifinalist Elizabethton couldn’t hang around with two-time state runners-up Science Hill.
Senior point guard Tianna Tarter scored 10 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter, Gabby Lyon recorded her third straight double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and 6-foot-1 wing Baylee Head made three 3-pointers en route to 11 points as the Lady Hilltoppers steadily pulled away for a 60-37 victory Tuesday at Science Hill.
Elizabethton was within 26-22 at the half, but Tarter got most of her handful of steals in the third and fourth quarters.
Science Hill (3-0) led 39-28 entering the final quarter, and Tarter scored 10 points and Lyon added five during a 15-4 flurry that gave the Lady ‘Toppers a 54-33 lead with 3:33 remaining.
Tarter capped the decisive spurt with consecutive transition baskets, one compliments of her steal. She got 16 points from transition opportunities.
“First of all, I think she’s one of the premier point guards, maybe, in the country,” Elizabethton coach Len Dugger said. “She might be in the top 10 in the United States. The thing about it is she makes everybody play at a different level.”
Dugger coached first-year Science Hill coach Keith Turner in high school in the early ‘80s at Elizabethton.
“If I’m gonna get beat, I can’t think of anybody I’d rather get beat by than Keith Turner,” Dugger said. “He’s just like my son. Since 1983 he’s just been a tops guy to me. … I know coach (Darrell) Barnwell did a very, very outstanding job, but I think they got somebody that’s just as good or better.
“And I don’t mean that with any disrespect. I say that respectfully toward coach Barnwell.”
Science Hill took its time solving Elizabethton’s zone and junk defenses, but Turner anticipated such a challenge from his former coach.
“I mean, that’s somebody that means a great deal to me,” Turner said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for coach Dugger and coach (Eddie) Carver and a lot of people surrounding the Elizabethton program.
“But it wasn’t about either one of us; it was about our teams, and we knew it’d be a tough, tough battle. I mean, they make it to the semifinals of the state tournament last year – a play or two from making it to the finals. … They don’t do a lot of complicated stuff, but boy, they put pressure on you defensively and make you play.”
Junior combo guard Keisha Gregory scored nine points while handling the toughest defensive assignment for the Lady ‘Toppers. She made both of her 3-pointers in the first half, and her steal and fast-break basket gave Science Hill its first double-digit lead (37-26) with 1:22 left in the third quarter.
“We’re always asking Keisha to take their best offensive player,” Turner said, “and that’s tough to guard their best offensive player and then turn around and expect them to score.”
Lyon missed much of a scoreless first half after getting her second foul with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
“I think their game plan early was to take Gabby away,” Turner said. “And they did a good job of that. But later on in the game we started making the right passes, got her the ball. She got some boards (and) just got a lot of easy buckets.”
The long-armed Head had two blocked shots. Her final trey, which came on a kickout from post Melea Fenley, gave the Lady Hilltoppers a 31-24 lead with 5:29 left in the third quarter.
Kayla Marosites led Elizabethton (2-1) with 14 points, including two 3-pointers. She took one dribble left on the right wing for her final trey, which cut Science Hill’s lead to 43-31 with 7:10 left.
“We had some mental lapses execution wise,” Dugger said. “But I saw a lot of positives, a lot of good things. … I think this will really help us as we go down the road.”
Science Hill hosts Daniel Boone on Friday. Elizabethton visits Hampton on Tuesday.