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By GOOSE LINDSAY
Tournament basketball is all about survival and that’s just what the Oliver Springs Lady Bobcats did Monday night as Michelle Christopher’s squad knocked off Coalfield, 59-49, in the semifinal round of the Region 2-A Tournament at Coalfield.
Monday’s victory was a tough one for the Lady ‘Cats considering the fact that Coalfield had defeated Oliver Springs in the regular season and the Lady ‘Cats also entered Monday’s contest less than 100 percent as starting post Mariah Ollis was out with the flu while starting point guard Kelsey Hall was also battling the effects of a stomach virus.
“I told them that we were going to have to pick up the intensity and have some players step up tonight,” head coach Michelle Christopher said following the game. “I thought we played with a lot of heart and desire tonight plus we also made some sacrifices.
“I’m proud of this team. A lot of people didn’t think we could win the district this year and these girls proved them wrong.”
Coalfield came out of the gate quick Monday as the Lady Jackets scored the first four points of the contest and they held Oliver Springs scoreless for the first two minutes of the contest.
Oliver Springs, however, would soon see the duo of Brooke Barger and Kayla Christopher come to life and lead the Lady ‘Cats to an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Barger would bury two three-pointers and score eight points while Christopher also scored eight points as the Lady ‘Cats led 20-12 after eight minutes of play.
The Lady ‘Cats continued to play well offensively in the second period, but they could not shake their neighbors from Morgan County. Oliver Springs would add one point to their lead by halftime as the Lady ‘Cats led 36-29 at intermission.
Christopher had a big second quarter for the Lady ‘Cats with nine points while freshman Alaina Jordan paced the Lady Jackets with six points.
The third period opened with Coalfield’s Whittney Walls and Danielle Elsea combining for six straight points to pull the Lady Jackets to within 36-35 with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
That run also prompted a Lady ‘Cat time out in which coach Christopher challenged her troops to turn it up a notch.
“We let our guard down and they wanted it more to start the second half,” she said. “I told them we had to turn up our defensive intensity.”
Christopher’s words sparked a fire as the Lady ‘Cats responded with a 12-2 run that gave Oliver Springs a 48-37 lead with 1:37 left in the period.
Christopher and Barger combined for eight of the 12 points in the run.
Oliver Springs held a 50-39 lead early in the final period, but the Lady ‘Cats would have to withstand one last run from the Lady Jackets.
Coalfield would hold Oliver Springs scoreless for more than five minutes in the fourth quarter and during that span the Lady Jackets closed to within 50-44, but that’s when Christopher made an unusual play.
Instead of delivering the knockout blow with a big basket, the all-state guard came up with a huge offensive rebound and dished the ball to Cindel Howard who scored to give the Lady ‘Cats a 52-44 lead with 2:08 left to play.
Coalfield would close to within five points with 1:23 left to play, but the Lady ‘Cats hit 6-of-6 free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.
For the game, Oliver Springs made 23-of-27 free throws.
Christopher led all scorers on the night with 25 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists. Barger was next in line with 16 points and five rebounds.
Jordan led Coalfield with 18 points and five rebounds.
With the victory, Oliver Springs improves to 24-7 overall and will face Wartburg (19-9) for the Region 2-A championship on Wednesday. This will be the fourth meeting of the year between the Lady ‘Cats and Lady ‘Dogs with Oliver Springs winning all three of the previous meetings.
“They know us inside and out,” Christopher said. “They’re a tough team, especially on defense. This game will come down to whoever executes the best and plays the best on defense.”
The winner of Wednesday’s game will also get to host a TSSAA Class A Sectional contest on Saturday while the loser travels to Cloudland or Cosby.
Coalfield (49) Walls 6, Scarbrough 8, Elsea 4, Newberry 4, Landrum 2, Jordan 18, Jones 7.
Oliver Springs (59) Barger 16, Christopher 25, Hall 3, Howard 6, Raby 2, Harper 2, Lively 5.