A veteran squad with terrific senior leadership that’s won 20 games by double-digit margins, Central claims all of the tight ones as well, like its 44-42 overtime verdict Friday against homestanding Dobyns-Bennett.
The Lady Cougars departed the Buck Van Huss Dome loud and proud, winning for the 27th time in 29 outings. It was their second close shave with the Tribe.
Ranked sixth among Tennessee’s Class AA schools — and with a sweep of AAA rival Daniel Boone also to its credit — Central defeated the Lady Indians 40-39 in December, in addition to Unicoi County 35-34 last week and Elizabethton 54-52 at the buzzer on Jan. 24. That’s 4-0 in one-possession games, something that doesn’t happen by chance.
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“These kids have really bought into what we’re trying to do this year,” said third-year Central boss Kristi Walling, whose team lost twice in a Florida tournament in late December. “They refuse to lose.
“We’ve been down 15 points (to Elizabethton) before and come back to win. We always seem to have that resilience and that mental toughness.”
The Lady Cougars, up 26-19 at halftime and 32-28 through three quarters, had to be mentally tough to snag this one, after D-B (21-10) came back to force OT.
The Lady Indians, who failed on a chance to win it at the end of regulation with a missed layup in the final two seconds, gained their first lead since 4-2 when Megan Ayers made 1 of 2 free throws for a 42-41 edge with 1:45 left in OT.
With senior guard Peyton Sams keeping her teammates cool, Central went back ahead when Jaelyn West cut to the bucket and converted a three-point play off a perfect assist from 6-foot-2 Abbey Crawford.
West’s free throw with 1:30 left provided the final score before D-B held the ball for the last shot, Ayers’ 20- footer that Macy McClellan partially blocked.
“We know that everybody’s going to double- team or pack it in on Abbey, so we need all of these kids to step up, and they do,” Walling said.
“The reason we’re so successful is because it’s a team.
“Peyton Sams is really the engine that gets it going ... and you’ve got Avery Leming knocking down 3s ... you have Jaelyn West driving to the basket ... you’ve got Maci McClellan ... you got Parker Hurd, Katie Horne ... and I thought that Allison Lambert gave us big minutes tonight.”
Leming hit three 3s and paced Central with 11 points. West added nine points and McClellan and Crawford had eight apiece.
The Lady Indians received 10 points each from Caitlyn Wallace and Ayers, who hit three 3s and was D-B’s go-to player down the stretch.
D-B coach Bill Francis tipped his hat.
“It’s like (the movie) ‘Groundhog Day’ — same thing as the first time we played them,” Francis said. “But that’s all right. I have no complaints. We had the opportunity to play a great team in the last game of the (regular) season and we both were challenged and learned some things heading into the postseason. This game will make us both better next week.”
The Lady Indians have the No. 3 seed for next week’s District 1-AAA tournament. Central is the top seed in the District 1-AA tournament.
D-B BOYS WIN FIFTH STRAIGHT
The Indians won their fifth straight game to close the night’s action at the Dome, easing to a methodical 70-51 decision over Sullivan Central.
D-B, the No. 2 seed in the District 1-AAA tournament, led 18-12 after one quarter, 38-26 at halftime and 52-36 with eight minutes left.
Abiah Releford scored 14 points to lead D-B (16-11), which got a dozen from Jonavan Gillespie and 10 from Brady Stump.
Team manager Caleb Hall saw his first action of the season and brought down the house with a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Ethan Lane’s 11 points were tops for Central (9-21).