When the clock finally read triple-zeros and the Morristown West Lady Trojans had clinched their third trip to the TSSAA Class AAA state tournament in Murfreesboro, the enormity of the win hit West coach Johnny Galyon.
After celebrating with his team on the floor and sitting down for a radio interview, Galyon’s emotions took over. Sitting on the front row of the bleachers inside Michael R. Reed Gymnasium, he couldn’t hold the tears back any longer.
He had just watched his Lady Trojans hold off the talented Maryville Lady Rebels 46-44 in overtime, clinching a berth among the final eight teams in the state in Class AAA. And in the end, his tears of joy summed up all the hard work, sacrifice and adversity his team endured on their way to an incredible postseason run.
“It’s emotional because we have four seniors in there that have fought for four years,” Galyon said through a cracking voice following the win. “They stuck it out and were loyal to this program and to the school. These are the moments that we savor. I’m just so proud of all our kids.”
With the win, West improves to 30-3 on the year, and they will find out their opponent in the opening round of the state tournament this afternoon at the official bracket drawing in Murfreesboro.
The loss ends Maryville’s season with a 25-8 mark. Galyon had high praise for the Lady Rebels after the contest.
“Maryville has a good enough team to be at the state tournament,” Galyon said. “Coach (Scott) West is a good enough coach to be there. I just thought we made more plays, especially at the end. They had the ball last, but they didn’t have enough time to get a look.”
The game came down to the final minute in overtime with it tied at 44. West freshman Sydney Newsome muscled her way through the lane and made a layup to give the Lady Trojans the lead with less than 40 seconds remaining, and the Lady Rebels held for one last shot.
Maryville tried to free Leila Bangash, who scored 32 points, for a 3-pointer to win the game, but Newsome was in her face each time.
West deflected a pass out of bounds with 7.7 seconds left, and the Lady Rebels used a timeout to set up another play. Another pass was deflected out of bounds with 1.2 seconds on the clock, and Maryville never got a shot attempt off before the horn.
“We had an opportunity to set our defense from underneath the basket, and that has been a plus for us the last month or so with our defense,” Galyon said. “We denied it, and luckily it was tipped out of bounds with a second left, and they didn’t have enough time.”
Senior Jecca Simerly led the Lady Trojans with 18 points, while Newsome added 14 in the win. Newsome tallied 11 of her 14 points in the second half.
“Simerly played her guts out,” Galyon said. “Blayke Shultz probably played her best floor game since she has been here. She didn’t score a bunch, but she didn’t turn it over. She played composed, and she knew what was at stake, which was unbelievable as a freshman.”
“What can I say about Newsome? She can flip one in the stands one trip and then make a big play right after that. When the chips are down, she is going to make a play for us. She has no fear, and that is what we love about her. She’s going to get better with her decisions. Last year she was playing against Meadowview and Lincoln, but now she’s playing against Maryville and teams like that. I’m really proud of her.”
The Lady Trojans looked to run away with the game from the opening tip, as Haylea Seals knocked down a corner 3-pointer just seconds into the game to energize the team and the crowd.
Maryville led 5-3, but a bucket inside by Simerly sparked an 11-0 run that ended with another layup by Simerly to make it 14-5 with 2:51 left in the half. After a Lady Rebel timeout, the visitors came roaring back, and a 3-pointer by Bangash made it 14-10 at the end of the first.
Bangash added a couple early baskets in the second as the Lady Rebels pulled ahead 15-14 after a 10-0 run, but Shultz hit a short jumper to stop the bleeding. West eventually led 22-19 late in the half after a 3-point play by Newsome, but Bangash nailed one of her five treys in the contest in the final minute of the half to knot the score at 22 at the mid-game break.
The third quarter was a low scoring period, with the West defense getting the better of the Maryville offense. Newsome and Simerly both scored in the first 90 seconds to give the Lady Trojans a 26-22 advantage, but a 3-point play from Bangash trimmed it to 26-25. Simerly sandwiched a bucket by Seals with two baskets of her own to push the lead 7, and West held a 32-27 lead entering the fourth.
Newsome hit a 3-pointer and a driving layup early in the fourth to up the margin to 37-29, but Bangash once again made her presence felt. The Maryville senior scored 10 straight points to give the Lady Rebels a 39-37 lead, but Christina Zimmerman tied it at 32 with just a little more than two minutes left.
West attempted to take the final shot to win it in regulation, but a turnover cost them that opportunity. The Lady Rebels never got a shot off however, as they turned it over and Seals missed a shot at the buzzer that could have won it.
Maryville took a 42-41 lead in the extra session on a 3-point play from Bangash with 2:16 left, but a free throw from Simerly tied it and Newsome put West ahead moments later with a bucket. After Bangash hit a pair of charity tosses to tie it once again, Newsome followed with another bucket for the final points of the game.
For Galyon, this was his ninth time in the Sectionals and his third win. He said the experience of being there before, even though this team had never been in that situation, helped his team get the win.
“This program just keeps plugging along,” Galyon said. “What we feel the proudest about is that we have been in this game nine times now. We haven’t made it through every time. Oak Ridge has been in our way a few times, and Powell and a few other teams. We have been in this situation before, and I feel like it helped us tonight.”
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor