Science Hill will be without senior Tianna Tarter in a must-win tonight, but coach Keith Turner prefers to point out positives.
The second-ranked Lady Hilltoppers (31-0) will take on Morristown West (27-3) in a 6 p.m. Region 1-AAA semifinal at Jefferson County minus Tarter, a dynamic point guard who will begin serving a two-game suspension after receiving two technical fouls in Friday’s first-round win against Seymour.
Citing a lack of precedence, including Bradley Central’s failed appeal after losing a sectional game when a questionable technical was called with 1.5 seconds in a tie game against Blackman two years ago, Turner chose not to appeal Tarter’s suspension to the TSSAA.
He said Science Hill should still take care of business if it plays the way it’s capable. Junior combo guard Keisha Gregory figures to be the primary quarterback in Tarter’s absence.
“You’re replacing one Division I guard with another one,” Turner said. “Keisha’s more than capable.”
Turner said Gregory and Abbey True ran the team effectively when Tarter missed the first summer camp last year due to illness, and the Lady ‘Toppers routed Greeneville when Tarter missed the regular-season finale two weeks ago due to illness.
Tarter is averaging around 19 points, five-plus assists and 4.5 steals. Senior 6-foot post Gabby Lyon is averaging around 16 points and eight rebounds, and Gregory scores approximately 12 points per game.
Turner also noted the emergence of 6-foot-1 perimeter threat Baylee Head and physical, active 6-foot-1 reserve post Miracle Aples, the latter of whom didn’t play when Science Hill beat West 55-37 in the season opener.
“We’ve got enough pieces to where we can go down there and win,” Turner said. “We’re bigger than they are. We’re faster than they are. We’ve got more experience.”
Still, missing the player that’s had the ball in her hands the vast majority of the season is unnerving when you’re playing a team that’s won 27 games and coached by Johnny Galyon, who was an entertaining guard when he was teammates with James “Little Man” Stewart at Morristown West.
Galyon has point guard issues too, as Abbe Craine tore an ACL the second week of January. She was averaging around 12 points and five assists.
“I look for Johnny to try to throw a lot of different things at us,” Turner said. “But I think we’re prepared for that and I think our studs will step up. I think they’ll try to press us some. I think they’ll maybe double Keisha or make it difficult to get it in to her.”
Sydney Newsome and Jecca Simerly are averaging around 13 points and seven rebounds for the Lady Trojans. Jenna Potts has made more than 50 3-pointers this season.
“They can shoot the three,” Turner said. “But I think we’ve got a better post presence with a lot of ours – not just Gabby, but Melea (Fenley) and Miracle and Hannah (Rodgers).”
Recruiting interest in Tarter is starting to snowball. He said ETSU has gotten aggressive of late. Others wanting her include Wright State, Tennessee Tech, Indiana State, UT-Martin and Lamar.
Turner said Tarter made her ACT score last spring and is on course to be a full qualifier, but anticipates more offers coming as her graduation becomes more apparent. There’s a chance she could still opt for one year of junior college to raise her stock if she wants to shoot for better offers from four-year programs.
Two-time defending national champion Trinity Valley (Athens, Texas) wants Tarter, according to Turner. Eight of TV’s alumni have played in the WNBA, including former Tennessee player Shannon Bobbitt, who, at 5-foot-2, is four inches shorter than Tarter.
Ole Miss has been in touch, and Turner would be surprised if more SEC and ACC programs don’t come calling.