MAYNARDVILLE – Grainger has been so dominating on the court that the Lady Grizzlies haven’t really faced a test since a 51-43 win over Gatlinburg-Pittman back in early January. They sure got a test on Friday night and passed it. Barely.
The fifth-ranked team in the state fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter, went up by 10 in the fourth and held on until the very end as they escaped Union County with a 48-47 win over the Lady Patriots.
The ever-so slim margin of victory moves the Lady Grizzlies’ winning streak to 20 games and puts their overall victory at 26-2. The Lady Patriots, who lost to Grainger by 36 points in the first matchup in Rutledge, fall to 18-9.
“I knew they were going to make shots because Union County is very skilled offensively,” Grainger head coach Rusty Bishop said of the Lady Patriots. “They were much better in their half-court defense tonight than they were at our place. We made 12 of 18 three’s in the first game, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen tonight because they are a very talented team.”
The game started about as badly for Grainger as it possibly could as the Lady Patriots hit four 3-pointers and went up 14-4 on Ella Johnson’s deep shot with two and half minutes to go in the first. Grainger eventually got the score down to 14-6 at the end of the period and finally got things headed in the right direction in the second as Lauren Longmire opened things up with five straight points. After Abbey Hodge converted a three-point play on the hoop and harm, Grainger claimed their first lead on a coast to coast drive by Longmire. The scoring run eventually got to eight points in-a-row before Union County could blunt it. Longmire was the go-to player in the second quarter as she scored 11 points and helped put Grainger up 25-21 at the half.
Quarter number three saw the two teams tied four times and swap the lead three more as neither team could gain the advantage on the other. The Lady Patriots closed out the third with five straight points to take a 36-35 lead into the final frame. Josie Harbin gave Grainger the lead right back to start the fourth, and then Tori Rutherford hit a three. Hodge took a charge on the defensive end and then seconds later, scored for the Lady Grizzlies on the other end in part of what was a 13-2 explosion. Hodge’s turnaround jumper gave Grainger their biggest lead of the contest at 48-38 with just over three minutes to go.
Just when it seemed as if the Lady Grizzlies were ready to ice the game away, here came Union County with multiple big plays to climb back into it. Jaiden Cox score on a three-point play where she was fouled on the way to the basket and hit the ensuing free throw. After McKenna Nease hit two free throws, the Lady Patriots got the ball right back and Chloe Maggard bombed in a three to pull the home team to within a point at 48-47. Grainger went to the line twice in the final seconds but missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Union County another shot at the win. Even though they had a good look at the potential game-winner, the Lady Patriots’ shot didn’t connect, and Grainger was able to grab the rebound and run out the clock.
“We are up 10 with a few minutes left, and I think we lost our head a bit,” Bishop said of the wild finish in which his team struggled at the charity stripe. “Tori fouled out, and it looked like we were lost at times. Also, you can’t go 4-of-13 from the free throw line and beat anyone so we were very lucky. We had people at the line we wanted because I will take Sydnie Hayes at the line for a one-and-one at the end of the game every time but she missed two. But it wasn’t just on her, Lauren missed four and Tori air-balled one, so we were just bad. This time of year free throws decide ball games, and we were just lucky because that should have beat us tonight but it didn’t.”
Bishop continued “They made shots early in the game and then made some late. I am still proud of our group because we could have rolled over plenty of times in that game. I told them we needed some adversity going into the tournament because there are going to be nights when we don’t shoot it well but there are two things we always have to do and that is to defend and rebound. I didn’t feel we were great rebounding tonight but the defense wasn’t that bad.”
Longmire led the Lady Grizzlies with 19 points and Rutherford added 10. Cox led Union County with 14 with Cassie Dykes and Johnson close behind with 11 points each.
Grainger wraps up the regular season on Monday night as they play at Pigeon Forge.