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OR shocked
Led by Hirst, Bearden Lady Bulldogs end season of nationally ranked Lady Wildcats in 2OT thriller

Mary Hirst’s post presence keyed Bearden’s unheard of defensive start against the nationally ranked Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats, holding OR scoreless the first 13:50 of the teams’ Region 2-AAA semifinal showdown.

But in a dramatic finish that went double overtime, the 6-foot-1 senior fouled out with 18 points, taking a ton of rebounds, several key blocked shots, clutch baskets and her sheer intimidation to the bench. The end result was apparent. No it wasn’t.

Bearden still won — shocking the Tennessee high school basketball world on Rikki Sanders’ driving lay-up with seven seconds left in the second overtime for a thrilling 45-44 victory to end the mighty Lady ’Cats’ season Monday, March 2, at West High School.

About Bearden’s man-to-man defense with Hirst sluffing off in the paint, severely disrupting Oak Ridge’s strength of attacking the basket, “It was a simple plan ... I know they’re a great team, but I told them we can win if you just do your job, you do not have to be extra-special tonight,” said BHS head coach Nathan Hodges, whose Lady ’Dawgs improved to 23-6. “With them you’ve just got to protect the basket.”

Among a sea of overjoyed BHS players, Hirst said, “I’ve never been so into a game actually in my life ... really a night to remember.

“My gut feeling was we were going to beat them,” Hirst added. “I really had confidence in our team. ... We played really good help defense. We made sure, me and Ellen [Smith, junior post] ... we stayed in the paint.”

Hodges added, “At the bottom of our scouting report we mentioned poise and tempo. We had to control the tempo of the game with our poise and handle their pressure and not let them get out in transition.”

Bearden's slowdown attack in the face of ORHS's 1-3-1 zone D left an 11-4 BHS halftime lead.

Oak Ridge (29-4) — partially recovering offensively in the second half as led by Kortni Jones’ 20 points including five three-pointers — took its first lead of the game, 31-29, on two Jones free throws with 1:07 left in regulation.

“Our offense was able to take care of the ball just well enough not to let them have one of those 16-0 spurts that just puts you out of a game like this,” Hodges said.

Two Hirst free throws tied it, then following a Jazzmin Hazzard floating seven-footer for OR, Hirst’s spinning five-footer tied it 33-33 with just 17 ticks left.

“Anytime we needed a basket late we went to her ... even when she got doubled down on and had to battle for rebounds, she was able to come through,” Hodges said of Hirst.

Hazzard apparently gave OR a 35-33 lead on a driving basket with 3.3 seconds showing, but was called for a charge — Hirst drawing it. Time for overtime.

Taylor Cravanas’ hustle on a missed free throw allowed Hirst to sink two free tosses for a 37-36 BHS lead just before she fouled out at the 1:08 mark of OT No. 1.

Hirst said, “They all knew they had to step up and they really stepped up and played hard.”

An ORHS free throw followed by each team turning over the ball left Bearden seven seconds to win the game. Jai-Jai McLaughlin’s driving five-footer in traffic fell a bit short at the buzzer.

After a Quesha McClanahan steal and Arnela Booker’s fastbreak lay-up gave Oak Ridge a 44-41 lead with one minute to play, Cravanas nailed a rebound basket at the 32-second mark. “We knew it was going to be hard when Mary went out, but then we said we had to pull together ... and we pulled together and won,” said Cravanas, a junior guard who scored nine.

McClanahan then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 24.6 seconds to go, and Bearden’s Shayla McDaniel rebounded.

About her game-winning drive, Sanders, a senior guard who scored 12 points, said “the plan was for Jai-Jai to get to the goal, but they stopped her and I just knew I had to do something.”

Hodges said about the winning offensive play, “We’re just trying to push the ball and attack the basket. They know if they don’t have anything to run a dribble hand-off, and Sanders was the one in that spot and came off and got the ball. She attacked the basket.”

Without calling a timeout, Oak Ridge threw a lead pass to Jones for a tough-angle baseline shot slightly behind the backboard. The shot rimmed out at the gun.

McLaughlin and Smith each ended with two points for Bearden.

Earning a sub-state berth Saturday, March 7, the Lady Bulldogs played Powell in the region title game Wednesday, March 4 (after press deadline).


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