By Carey Phillips
Regular season champion Franklin downed short--handed and fourth-seeded Smoky Mountain 55-35 Feb. 18 in the semifinals of the Mountain Six Conference Basketball Tournament at East Henderson.
Makayla Brewer scored 12 points for the Lady Panthers.
The Lady Mustangs (13-11) were led by Aubrie Miller with 14 points and Lucy McRae with 12.
Four SM players, including leading scorer Natalie Parris, missed the game due to illness.
“The bottom line is about half of our team had the flu,” Coach Ollin Dunford said. “That was a factor. I’ve got to take my hat off to the eight players who did show up. I was so proud of their effort and their eagerness to want to play. I never sensed any discouragement. They were ready to play.”
Dunford said he had never been involved in a game as a player or coach in which so many players were out sick.
“It was definitely some adversity I had never dealt with before,” he said.
“We played with a lot of energy and intensity,” Dunford said. “It was totally impressive. I couldn’t have asked for any more. We didn’t win the game, but in many cases we did win.”
With McRae making four foul shots and Miller hitting a basket, the Lady Mustangs led 6-0 midway through the first period.
They were up 8-4 at the quarter break.
Chela Green scored the first five points in an 8-1 run to start the second quarter as Franklin went in front 12-9 after Sydney Williams’ basket with 3:59 on the clock.
Kyndell Burns’ three--pointer with 19 seconds left made it 19-11 at halftime.
Franklin broke the game open with a 16-2 spurt, including six by Sierra Wade, to start the second half. Tori Ensley’s foul shot capped the run for a 35-13 lead with 1:21 to play in the third stanza, which ended with the Lady Panthers on top 37-16.
The largest lead was 41-18 on two foul shots by Ensley with 6:48 left in the game.
Four of Miller’s five field goals were three-pointers. McRae made two field goals and eight free throws.
Macy Wike added four points, Julianna Welch scored three, and Kevonna Tushka had two.
The Lady Mustang JVs ended the year 18-3 with a 36-35 loss to Franklin in last Thursday’s championship game at East. The Lady Panthers scored the winning basket with four seconds left.
Becca Corona-Smith scored 12 points, and Xalia Spencer had 10.
SM led 10-7 after the first quarter, and it was 18-18 at halftime. Franklin was in front 27-24 through three periods.
“It was a hard-fought, tough game,” Coach Jason Melvin said. “Franklin came out strong and shot the ball very well. We were playing good defense and fighting for rebounds, but at times it felt like Franklin made every shot they took. Even after we were down seven late in the game, we fought back to take a one-point lead. It came down to a well-contested, bad angle, running shot over two of our defenders from the short corner.
“It was an absolutely heart-breaking ending to an amazing season,” he added. “This team was fun to coach and fun to watch play. They have worked so hard and come so far this season. You hate to see them lose on a last second shot, but sometimes that happens. We did so many good things in the game, one of which was absolutely never giving up. I have never coached a team that refuses to stop working like this group. I am beyond proud of each of the girls because of how far they’ve come this season, how much they grew as young women and basketball players, and how hard they worked every practice and game.”