By THOMAS P. WEAVER
WHITWELL-Behind a 26-point effort from senior leader Sydney Roach, the Clay County Lady Bulldogs will make their 10th trip to State Tournament this week after a convincing sectional (sub-state) round win here over the Whitwell Lady Tigers last Saturday night in front of a good crowd that made the two-hour drive south to the small school nestled in the Sequatchie Valley.
“Your best players have to step up in order to get their teams to this level,” legendary head coach Joe Sims said when asked about Roach’s performance. “She did and now were are heading back to Murfreesboro.”
Sims’ teams have been there nine times before, with their last appearance in the state’s Elite 8 coming back in 2004. This year’s campaign will begin at Middle Tennessee State University’s (MTSU) Murphy Center Thursday at 2:30 p.m. as Clay County will take on Cloudland in the opening round in Murfeesboro.
“It feels great to be going back and I’m proud these girls are getting this opportunity,” Sims answered when asked how it felt to be returning to the state tournament for the tenth time in his career. “I’ve always felt like this bunch of seniors has had the ability and I’m happy for them–now we’ve just got to go take care of business.”
Besides Roach, fellow seniors also stepped up their games to help the Lady Bulldogs reach the pinnacle of girls’ high school basketball.
Allie Brown added 14 and Casey Cooper closed in on her average with 13 in the victory over Whitwell sending them deeper into the postseason.
“Allie was huge for us,” Sims said, “Sydney and ‘Coop’ are going to get theirs, but we’ve got to have either Allie or Mackenzie (Hamilton) score in double digits for us to beat a good team, and it was Allie this time.”
Sims said Hamilton was also key in the win thanks to her leadership on the floor and relenting defensive pressure.
“She’s like an Energizer bunny out there,” he said.
He also praised the play of underclassmen Mattie Monroe and Hannah Ogletree, along with senior Tess Hatcher.
“Mattie and Hannah split time and Tess has played some big minutes for us this year,” Sims said. “We definitely wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Roach got her game going from the start scoring three buckets in the first quarter, Brown nailed a pair of three-pointers, and Cooper dropped in a half dozen as the Lady Dawgs made a 18-3 run to end the first period with a 20-8 advantage.
“That was big for us to get the lead early, especially on the road,” Sims said. “Their crowd really wanted to get into it, but getting up on them that quick took them out of it and our fans took over.”
Roach continued her good play right out of the break in the second stanza as she blew by a Lady Tiger defender for a layup. Brown then capped off the 7-0 run with her final three of the night and a field goal to push the lead to 19 with just under two minutes gone in the period.
The remainder of the quarter Clay County struggled to score and the game went into a proverbial grind that continued well into the second half.
The back-and-forth did leave the Lady Bulldogs with a 17-point halftime lead (33-16), but that margin stayed the same through the third as the teams played an even 12-point period.
“At the half I told the girls all we needed to do was keep scoring and at least match them basket for basket and that’s how it ended up going for awhile.” Sims said.
That even play went out the window in the final period as Roach finished off her night with a bang. She scored to first five points in the fourth quarter and then had back-to-back steals that turned into layups to push her team’s lead out to 24, which ended up being an insurmountable margin for Whitwell to overcome.
With the state-tournament berth in the bag, Sims inserted his reserves–which led to the final 21-point margin.
LADY DAWGS (60)-Roach 26, Brown 14, Cooper 13, Hamilton 4, Kennedy Smith 3.
The road to the
LIVINGSTON-A win in the semi-final round of the Region 4A tournament here over Gordonsville last week guaranteed the Lady Bulldogs a sectional (sub-state) game and a loss to Jackson County last Wednesday in the region championship sent them traveling to Whitwell where they claimed their state-tournament bid.
Clay County had already beaten Gordonsville twice in the regular season and they took care of business against the Lady Tigers again to reach the championship game behind an amazing 29-point effort from senior Casey Cooper.
There they met their nemesis in the form of a highly-ranked Jackson County team and lost to them for the fourth time this year despite a good effort from Clay County, including 15 from Sydney Roach.
Despite the loss, the Lady Bulldogs went on to punch their ticket to Murfreesboro on the road at Whitwell.
Region 4A Semi-Finals
LIVINGSTON-Casey Cooper put on a performance to remember here last week to vault her Lady Bulldog team into a sectional (sub-state) game and a Region 4A championship matchup with Jackson County.
Her 29-point effort helped Clay County knock off Gordonsville by a score of 62-39 and advance to have a shot at making the state tournament.
After scoring six in the first quarter, Cooper doubled that before halftime putting up 12 in the second to finish the half with 18 and help give the Lady Bulldogs a 33-15 margin at the break.
Sydney Roach also scored 10 of her 19 in the first pair of quarters to put an early end to any hopes the Lady Tigers had of upsetting Clay County.
A half-dozen from both Cooper and Roach in the in third period sealed the deal for the Lady Bulldogs as they extended their lead to 25 heading into the final period.
There Roach scored her final three the hard way taking a pass from Mackenzie Hamilton in for a layup where she was fouled and made the free throw.
Cooper then quickly put up five more to reach her near-30-point total when she also converted a three-point play and made a layup upping the Clay County lead to 31 before coach Sims called off the dogs.
Reserves finished out the contest and the Lady Bulldogs advanced with the 23-point win.
LADY DAWGS (62)-Cooper 29, Roach 19, Allie Brown 5, Hamilton 4, Alesha Copas 3, Hope Roach 2.
Region 4A Championship
LIVINGSTON-The Lady Bulldogs fell to Jackson County here for the fourth time this year in the Region 4A championship game by the score of 58-45, but just getting there was Clay County’s goal.
“It would’ve been nice to play at home, but it worked out,” coach Sims said about the loss that sent Clay County traveling for the sectional (sub-state) round.
The game was another epic battle between the two neighboring-county rivals, but again the Lady Blue Devils got out to a quick lead and ended up taking the victory.
Casey Cooper scored the first basket of the game, but Jackson County hit a trio of three-pointers to take a 9-2 lead early and they then went on to outscore the Lady Bulldogs 15-7 in the first period.
Clay County cut that margin to four behind back-to-back baskets from Sydney Roach and Mackenzie Hamilton in the second stanza, but the Lady Blue Devils responded with a 7-0 run to push it back to an 11-point lead with the majority of the quarter in the books.
Cooper then went outside to nail a three-pointer and made a pair from the charity stripe. Her efforts, paired with a make by Allie Brown from distance, cut the margin back to six, 25-19, as the halftime buzzer sounded.
The Lady Bulldogs narrowed it to three at the beginning of the third as Cooper found her mark for another trey, but an ensuing Jackson County 7-0 run pushed it back to 10 in a heartbeat. Some back-and-forth ended the period with the Lady Blue Devils up by the same margin, 42-32.
A pair of made free-throws and another three-pointer from Roach cut the lead a bit to open the fourth quarter. Hamilton made a layup to bring the deficit to six at the 5:56 mark to prompt a Jackson County timeout, but that would be as close as Clay County would get.
The lead went to nine in less than a minute and ballooned to the final margin of 13 by game’s end leaving the Lady Bulldogs accepting the Region 4A runners-up trophy.
Cooper, Roach, Hamilton, and Brown were named to the All-Region Tournament team.
LADY DAWGS (45)-Roach 15, Cooper 12, Hamilton 9, Brown 7, Mattie Monroe 2.