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Harper leads Lady 'Cats to district title

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By The Staff

By BRIAN LANGLEY

Roane Newspapers

The year might change and new players make take the court, but Oliver Springs has remained the same when it comes District 4-A Tournament time. The No. 4 seed Lady Bobcats won their fifth straight District 4-A crown and ninth straight district tournament dating back to their Class AA days with a 48-43 victory over No. 2 seed Wartburg Monday night.

For the second time in three seasons, Oliver Springs defeated the Lady Bulldogs (20-6) in the championship game. The Lady Bobcats had to win their fifth District 4-A title as a lower seed. The team also used the all-district team as motivation.

"People haven't given us a chance all year. Of course, we've worked hard and we've gotten better. It was very tough on us through the season having a losing record and losing a lot of games. A lot of those games probably helped prepare us. We worked every day after we got beat. We would come back in and just grind at it and work at it," explained Oliver Springs basketball coach Michelle Christopher.

"After the all-district meeting, I think it really hit home whenever we come back that we had a lot of kids that hadn't played good all through the season. It was a big eye-opener that there were some other kids on the other teams that people thought was better than them. They just kind of came together and wanted to show people what they had on their plate."

Wartburg head coach Jason Davis was disappointed in holding a second half lead.

"You come into the tournament and you're 20-5 on the season, you expect to win it. Oliver Springs played great tonight and they upset us. We didn't take care of our business," said Davis, who led his team to their second championship game in three seasons.

Trailing by eight early in the third quarter, Oliver Springs used a decisive 14-0 run to spark them to the five-point win.

Wartburg led 12-9 after one quarter with Crystal Fountain and Alisha Winegar scoring all 12 points.

Oliver Springs started the second period with an 8-2 run (Meleah Murray tallied four) to take a 17-14 lead, but Wartburg answered with a 6-0 surge, including a four-point play by Lauren Bunch, to regain the lead at 20-17. Fountain scored four points late in the half to help push the lead to 25-19 at the break.

Wartburg's Sarah Davidson scored two baskets early in the third to make it 29-21, but the Lady Bobcats then took control of the game with a 14-0 surge over the next six minutes to take a 35-29 lead with just over a minute left in the quarter. Tournament MVP Chelsea Harper scored eight points, including two three-pointers, during the stretch to lead the way.

"Chelsea's been such a leader for us; she has the heart of a champion," Christopher said. "She just took over and she's been hitting big shots for us all the way through the tournament. She definitely deserved the MVP award."

Davidson scored off a rebound to close the gap to three late in the quarter, but Murray finished the scoring in the third with a three-point play to give her team a 38-32 lead with one quarter to go.

The Lady 'Cats held an eight-pint lead halfway through the fourth before Wartburg's Miranda Longmire hit a three-pointer to spark a 5-0 run to close the gap to 44-41. During the final three minutes, Oliver Springs hit four freebies to push the lead to 48-41. Bunch scored with seven seconds left, but the Lady Bobcats took home another District 4-A Championship by a 48-43 final.

Christopher praised her team for a hard-earned win.

"Wartburg came out at us and they made it tough to do anything we wanted to do. I just give it to my girls for the heart, the desire and the will to win that they've had," said Christopher. 

The Lady Bobcats won the battle of the boards by a 32-27 margin and used a 16-9 edge in made free throws to help secure the championship win.

Wartburg was paced by the 1-2 senior punch of Crystal Fountain (16 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals) and Lauren Bunch (8 points, 3 assists). Sarah Davidson (6 points, 6 rebounds), Alisha Winegar (5 points, 3 rebounds) and Miranda Longmire (5 points, 3 assists) played well in the loss.

Oliver Springs (11-18) was powered by the scoring trio of Chelsey Harper (18 points, 8 rebounds), Meleah Murray (14 points, 7 boards) and Katie Harvey (12 points). 

Both Wartburg and Oliver Springs now advance to the Region 2-A Tournament that begins Friday. The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Bobcats will play Midway and Rockwood.

Wartburg (43) Fountain 16, Bunch 8, Davidson 6, Longmire 5, Winegar 5, Lowe 2, Kidd 1.

Oliver Springs (48) Harper 18, Murray 14, Harvey 12, Christopher 2, Raby 2.