Grainger unleashed its pressure early, forcing 12 first-half turnovers, and slowed the pace late in pulling away for a 55-43 victory over the Lady Cougars.
“It’s the day I’ve been dreading a long time and it came too fast,” Central coach Kristi Walling said. “It’s a special group even though it didn’t end the way we wanted to. We talked to them in the locker room about all they accomplished.
See Cheryl Gray’s 📸📸from the Lady Cougars’ game
“They tied the school record for wins, beat 3A schools Dobyns-Bennett and Daniel Boone twice. We had to remind them how they had a great season.”
Abbey Crawford, a Wofford signee, finished off her brilliant high school career with 16 points. Jaelyn West added 11 for the Lady Cougars (29-4), the Three Rivers Conference champions.
Crawford and fellow seniors Peyton Sams, Avery Leming and Parker Hurd left an indelible on the program, the school and those associated with it.
“I have a special place in my heart for these seniors,” an emotional Walling said. “I’ve been around Peyton, Avery and Abbey since sixth grade. When I came to the high school, Parker fell right along. Those four, I’m having a hard time letting them go.”
“Playing with these girls has been one of the best things to ever happen to me,” Crawford said. “Those girls are so special, my best friends, and I love them so much. We tied the school record for wins. That was something I didn’t even know we could do. It has been incredible.”
Tori Rutherford led four Grainger players in double figures with 13 points. Matty Tanner and Lauren Longmire each scored 11 and Abbey Hodge finished with 10.
LADY CYCLONES MOVE ON
Senior Kaitlyn Bailey scored 12 points and made the defensive play of the game in Elizabethton’s 61-51 regional semifinal win over South Greene (24-7).
Bailey shot block with under three minutes to play helped clinch the victory that sent the Lady Cyclones (22-10) into Wednesday regional final against Grainger.
“Sometimes, I leave my feet when I don’t need to,” Bailey said. “I saw her release the ball and I knew I could swat it. They were being aggressive so I realized I needed to step up my intensity. I started going in and getting at those girls more.”
Lina Lyon was tops for Elizabethton with 13 points. Morgan Headrick totaled 11 and Torrie Roberts added eight.
The Lady Cyclones raced led 33-25 at halftime, but the Lady Rebels rallied to go up 40-38 in the third quarter. Elizabethton countered and went into the fourth up 49-42.
“It’s a testament to our kids,” Elizabethton coach Lucas Andrews said. “We preached to our kids they were never going to be out of the game.”
Kiley Collins led South Greene with 18 points. Addison Williams accounted for a dozen and Jayden Merriweather had 10.
Both semifinal winners advanced to Saturday’s sectional round.