Shorthanded Sevier County didn’t want to score too quickly Friday night. Unfortunately, for the Bearettes, they executed their game plan.
Second-ranked Science Hill forced 24 turnovers and held Sevier County to four field goals while opening the Region 1-AAA girls tournament with a 53-20 victory at the ’Topper Palace.
The Lady ’Toppers (33-0) will attempt to clinch a substate berth when they play Seymour (19-12) in a regional semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Cherokee. Seymour defeated Sullivan South, 61-49.
Morristown East (27-4) and Tennessee High (27-5) also advanced to the semifinals. East beat Daniel Boone, 65-35, and the Lady Vikings defeated Morristown West, 49-44.
Sevier County, which finished the season with a 17-16 record, lost leading scorers Carly Pippin and Madison Pickel to injuries during the district tournament. Pippin, the point guard, has signed with Carson-Newman.
So Sevier County passed up numerous shot opportunities against Science Hill while averaging more than a minute per possession in the first quarter. The stall worked for a while, but was only delaying the inevitable.
The score was tied 2-2 for the first 51â„2 minutes, but Shy Copney scored the first of her game-high 18 points on a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:22 left in the quarter. Copney added another from the left wing later in the quarter, which Keisha Gregory capped on an assist from Tianna Tarter for a 13-4 lead.
Defending the deliberate attack could pay dividends for the Lady Hilltoppers.
“It was good for us,” said Science Hill coach Darrell Barnwell, whose team in ranked No. 16 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 24 by ESPN. “Our kids had to work hard defensively. … They were making us have to work for a minute to a minute and a half at times on defense. That’s tough. It wears you down.
“So I thought it was good that our kids still had enough energy and intensity to get after ’em a little bit when we did score and could press and do some of the things that we do.”
Science Hill got eight points apiece from sophomores Gabby Lyon and Tianna Tarter, and seven points from Enjelica Reid. Tarter had seven assists.
The best ball movement might’ve been a two-pass sequence from Morgan Knack to Tarter to Lyon for an interior basket that gave Science Hill a 28-8 lead with 1:54 left in the first half.
Other plays that especially pleased the Hilltoppers fans were Lyon’s steal and finish with the left hand in transition, Gregory’s bank shot on a 12-foot runner and Shae Smith’s interior basket via a driving pass from Tarter.
Sevier County coach Stacy Marine had been primarily concerned with defending Knack on the perimeter.
“Of course, Shy jumped up there and hit (three) threes,” Marine said. “We know she can shoot it, but we didn’t think she’d be that consistent tonight. … It’s real tough against a team like that, because if you focus on one, the others are gonna get some shots. Plus, they’ve got post play inside and the point guard’s so quick. I mean, they’ve got so many weapons. … We’ve not seen a team that’s got that inside-outside play.”
Lyon twisted an ankle in the second half, but returned to the game.
“I think she just rolled it a little bit,” Barnwell said. “She went back and played pretty decent on it. Probably a little sore tomorrow, but she’ll be okay.”
Joslyn Connatser led Sevier County with six points.
“We knew we couldn’t run with them,” Marine said. “They’re too athletic, especially undermanned the way we were. We knew the only chance we had was to be real patient on offense and see if we could wear them down a little bit defensively and get a great look. We talked about (how) against teams like that when you’re undermanned, I mean, you’ve got to pass up that first good look and that second good look sometimes just to get the great look.”
Science Hill has won 57 of its last 58 games. The last seven victories have come by an average margin of 43.2 points.
Science Hill’s offensive balance and depth impressed Marine.
“They’re as good as anybody we’ve played; I can tell you that right now,” Marine said. “I see them going to the state and having a good chance to win it.”