The answer was, emphatically, yes.
And, oh my, did Macie Culbertson add the exclamation point in Boone’s 62-51 victory in a Class AAA girls sectional basketball game Saturday night at Snyder Gym. Boone’s senior guard turned in a clutch performance for the Lady Trailblazers’ ages with 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a Murfreesboro-gut-check 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
It was the 30th win of the season for Boone (30-4) and the Lady Trailblazers’ first-ever berth in the Class AAA state tournament. Boone, which reached the Class AA event in 1997 and 1998, will play Wednesday at Murphy Center.
“Lot of ups and lots of downs,” said Boone head coach Travis Mains. “Lots of perseverance by our kids. You spend so much time with these kids, and put so much into it. It’s March Madness, baby.”
A blind draw will be held Sunday in Murfreesboro at 3 p.m. (EST) to determine Boone’s quarterfinal opponent.
Mains said he wasn’t overconfident about Boone’s chances, but the players got it done.
“In the back of my head, I really didn’t know,” said Mains. “They did it. It was them. They did it.”
Culbertson said she didn’t know if Boone could get over the Oak Ridge hump.
“Honestly, no,” she said. “But we just kind of dug down deep and believed. There were a couple of times when they got a lead, and in our timeout we talked about this being what we’ve always worked for every day in practice.”
ON MACIE’S SHOULDERS
Boone got state-level performances from Jaycie Jenkins (11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals), Bayleigh Carmichel (12 points, 2 steals) and Sydney Pearce (11 points, 9 rebounds, three blocks), but it was Culbertson putting them over the top.
“She’s a great player,” said senior Emily Sizemore. “She took it to the goal when we needed her to. I’m so thankful she’s on our team.”
Mains said, “It was Macie, and then everybody made a big play down at the end. Our kids brought it home, and this crowd was unbelievable.”
THE TURNING POINTS
No. 1 — Boone trailed by four points at halftime, 30-26, but began to impose its will in the third quarter. The Lady Trailblazers scored the first seven points of the second half, and Jenkins was a big part of the turnaround. She hit a 3-pointer from the corner to start the 7-0 run.
“I was wide open because they were helping on Sydney,” said Jenkins, a steadily improving sophomore. “Macie made the extra pass to me, and I shot it without hesitation.”
No. 2 — This one went Oak Ridge’s way as Culbertson missed a layup, Pearce couldn’t secure the rebound, and the Lady Wildcats got a fast break the other way. Mykia Dowdell converted a three-point play that gave Oak Ridge a 49-48 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
No. 3 — It was Sizemore’s only bucket of the night, but the clutch delivery resonated from Day 1 of practice all the way to the sectional moment. Sizemore ripped the net with under three minutes left, and the 3-pointer gave Boone a 51-49 lead it would not relinquish.
“It gave us a boost and the lead,” said Sizemore. “But we knew we had to get a stop and score again.”
No. 4 — That score came from Carmichel, who crushed Oak Ridge with a corner trey to give Boone a five-point lead.
From there to the finish, Culbertson sealed The Boro reservations by hitting six straight free throws.
OAK RIDGE STANDOUTS
Jada Guinn had a superb effort for the Lady Wildcats, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Dowdell added 14 points and nine rebounds.
“We finally figured out how to get the ball out of Guinn’s hands, and that made all the difference in the world,” said Mains.