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By GOOSE LINDSAY
Last year at this time the Oliver Springs Lady Bobcats were on top of the world after knocking off Clarkrange 42-40 in the opening round of the TSSAA Class A State Tournament.
Wednesday afternoon was a different story, however, as the Lady Buffaloes got some revenge and ended Oliver Springs’ season with a 55-46 victory in the opening round of the state tournament in Murfreesboro.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted,” Oliver Springs head coach Michelle Christopher said after the game. “We played them much tougher than before (Clarkrange defeated Oliver Springs 62-31 in December), but when you play a great team like that, you got to come ready to play. Everybody that steps on that floor has to bring their best game against a team like Clarkrange. I didn’t feel like we did that today, especially in the first half.”
Christopher, however, was quick to point out that making the state tournament for a third straight year and fifth time in seven years is something to be proud of.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d be here. We lost three starters last year and we were not picked to win our district by a lot of people. We can’t fuss about playing in the state tournament.”
The Lady ‘Cats let it be known early on that Wednesday’s contest would be a lot different than December’s 31-point shellacking. Oliver Springs and Clarkrange traded baskets for much of the quarter as the score would be tied at 8-8 after eight minutes of play.
The second period, however, was a different story.
Oliver Springs’ defense was still solid in the period, but a trapping Lady Buffalo defense took the Lady ‘Cats out of their comfort zone. The result would be just one field goal and three free throws for Oliver Springs in the period as Clarkrange led 19-13 at halftime.
Oliver Springs made just 4 of 15 (26.7 percent) shots from the floor in the first half and had just five field goal attempts in the second period as Christopher was upset at halftime with her team’s performance.
“We didn’t do a good job of executing our offense in the first half, but their defense did a good job of taking away our strengths,” she said.
The first six minutes of the third quarter would see the Lady ‘Cats continue to struggle from the floor as Clarkrange’s lead grew to 26-17. Then to make matters worse, Lady ‘Cat star Kayla Christopher picked up her third foul and would watch the final 2:27 of the period from the bench.
That, however, is when Oliver Springs’ offense suddenly picked up the pace. Kasi Bilyeu and Brooke Barger each buried treys as the Lady ‘Cats ended the period on a 9-4 run to cut the Lady Buffaloes lead to 30-26 after three periods of play.
“That was huge for us,” Christopher said of Bilyeu and Barger’s triples to end the period. “That’s why we had Kasi in right there. She can knock down threes.”
Clarkrange, however, regrouped quickly and opened the final period with a 12-4 run to make the score 42-30 with 4:33 left to play.
At this point Kayla Christopher tried to carry her squad to victory.
With 4:24 left to play Christopher buried a three-pointer then with 3:25 left she scored from inside the arc to cut the lead to 42-35.
Oliver Springs, however, would get no closer. Christopher did bury two more three-pointers and scored eight points down the stretch, but the Lady Buffaloes hit 13 of 15 free throws in the final 2:07 to seal the deal.
While unhappy with the first half, Christopher was pleased with the final 16 minutes of play.
“If we play the first half like we did the second we probably win the game,” Christopher said.
Kelli Reed led Clarkrange on the night with 15 points and seven rebounds. Tasha Phillips (12 points) and Hannah Green (10 points) also scored in double figures for the Lady Buffaloes.
Christopher had a monster game for Oliver Springs with 24 points and eight rebounds. Christopher was 10 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 3 from three-point range.
Barger (10 points, 5 rebounds) also scored in double digits for the Lady ‘Cats.
Barger and Cindel Howard played their final game for Oliver Springs on Wednesday and coach Christopher said they would be missed.
“We have a lot of leadership to replace in Brooke and Cindel,” she said. “They both have a drive to win and they work hard. They have been excellent leaders for our team.”
Christopher, however, also knows that seven players with a lot of playing time return and that could lead to another trip to Murfreesboro.
“We’ve got to get stronger. We’ve got to get better offensively. We’ll be working to figure out what our strengths are.”
Oliver Springs finishes the season with a 25-8 record while Clarkrange improves to 31-6.
Oliver Springs (46) Christopher 24, Barger 10, Ollis 4, Hall 2, Bilyeu 5, Harper 1.