Youthful still, but this is old hat for Science Hill.
The undefeated Lady Hilltoppers will play host to Knox Farragut in Class AAA sectional basketball contest tonight at the ’Topper Palace. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
“We are young age-wise, but experience-wise — especially the juniors — they’ve got a lot,” said Science Hill head coach Darrell Barnwell. “They’ve played in a lot of big games.”
This one certainly qualifies as a big one. The winner advances to next week’s state tournament in Murfreesboro while the loser’s season is done.
“Our goal is still to win a state title,” said Barnwell. “We’ve got to play well (tonight) in order to have a chance to do that.”
Science Hill enters with a record of 35-0 while Farragut is 26-7.
In Class A, Cloudland will play host to Tellico Plains. In Class AA, Chuckey-Doak is at home to take on Stone Memorial. Both of those games start at 7 p.m.
Science Hill has absolutely rolled through the postseason thus far, winning by margins of 57, 54, 34, 33, 20 and 45.
Defense has been a key for that dominance. Barnwell said his team turned things up a notch defensively in last year’s postseason, and has done it again this year.
“Our defense has been pretty solid throughout the year, but again the defense has gotten better in the postseason,” said Barnwell.
Science Hill whipped Morristown East 85-40 in the Region 1-AAA final on Friday night. Meanwhile, Farragut was on the sour end of an ugly 39-35 loss to Maryville in the Region 2-AAA title game.
The Lady Admirals scored just four points in the fourth quarter of that game. They were 2 of 13 from the field in the final eight minutes.
Such offensive punchlessness could be a major problem against a Science Hill team that is averaging 73.4 points per game. By contrast, Farragut has scored in the 50s and below in nearly every game this season.
This is a rematch of last year’s sectional, where Science Hill earned a 68-52 win. Farragut graduated some key players from that team, but don’t expect the Hilltoppers to take the Admirals lightly.
“We scrimmaged them in the fall during one of those play days,” said Barnwell. “It was a pretty good game. We didn’t shoot well and they did, and it stayed competitive for quite some time.”
Farragut is led by 6-foot posts Rebecca Jameson and Katie Overton, point guard Whitney Smith and guard Madison Blevins. Jameson had 10 points and six rebounds in the loss to Maryville. Overton had eight points and six rebounds.
“They’ve got a quality point guard and a good shooting guard,” said Barnwell. “They are quick and they can handle the ball well.”
Science Hill led by one of the best point guards in the state in sophomore Tianna Tarter (12 points, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game). Other standouts include region tournament most valuable player Shy Copney along with posts Enjelica Reid and Gabby Lyon.
Tellico Plains (25-7) at Cloudland (31-4) — Home-court advantage is nice, but the Lady Highlanders will have to work for their state meal ticket.
The Lady Bears boast a 1,000-point scorer in Tennessee Wesleyan signee Sarah McKinnon. The 5-11 senior is averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds, but was limited to four points in her team’s 56-36 loss to Wartburg in the Region 2-A finals.
“She’s a good post player,” said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield. “She’s a left-handed kid, and she scores well.”
Birchfield said the Lady Highlanders will have to take care of the ball.
“They press and halfcourt trap, and they play an extended zone but they get after you,” he said. “They never let you relax.”
Other keys for Tellico are 5-9 sophomore McKinley Dalton (10.2 points., 7.1 rebounds per game) and 5-5 freshman Jasmine Harris.
Cloudland is led by Brooke Rhodes, who is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. Other standouts are post Courtney Wilson (10 points 7 rebounds per game) and guard Courtney Clarke, who was the Region 1-A MVP.
Birchfield said he believes his team is ready.
“I think the kids are eager to play,” he said. “At this point in the season you’ve got to do what you’ve done all year, and just play well.”