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By GOOSE LINDSAY
It’s been said that all a team has to do to beat the Oliver Springs Lady Bobcats is to take Kayla Christopher out of the equation because she’s all the Lady ‘Cats have.
That’s what Lake County tried Wednesday afternoon in the opening round of the TSSAA Class A State Tournament in Murfreesboro, but the Lady Falcons found out the hard way that there is a lot more to Oliver Springs than Christopher and the result was a 52-43 victory for the Region 2-A Champions.
The Lady Falcons elected to run a double team at Christopher every time she touched the ball. That strategy held Christopher to only five shot attempts on the day and a total of 11 points, but what it also did was free up Christopher’s teammates and they responded by shooting better than 50 percent from the floor (15-29) with Christopher picking up a game-high four assists.
“We knew going into the game there was a lot of stuff said on the computer (Internet) about having a one-man team, Kayla this and Kayla that,” Lady ‘Cat head coach Michelle Christopher said. “We’ve been talking about that all year. We have more than one; we have eight or nine kids that can step up and make plays at difficult times.”
“A lot of people overlook everybody else on this team, but we’ve got a lot of really good players,” Kayla Christopher added. “We showed that today and we had a lot of people step up and make shots.”
The Lady ‘Cats didn’t know going into the game that the Lady Falcons would throw a double team at Christopher every time she touched the ball, but they had prepared for that scenario in practice.
“We go through stuff in practice everyday because we know people are going to double team Kayla and we run plays that help out with that,” senior Mariah Ollis said. “And when we run those plays, we know that we have to knock down those shots.”
Eight players scored for Oliver Springs on the day with Kelsey Hall and Ollis leading the way.
Hall went 4-5 from the floor and she knocked down the Lady ‘Cats’ only three-pointer on the night. She also went 5-6 from the foul line to finish with a team-high 14 points.
Ollis was a warrior in the paint as she ended the afternoon with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Eight of those rebounds came in the second half and allowed the Lady ‘Cats to win the battle of the boards, 29-27, after being outrebounded in the first half, 14-10.
Oliver Springs came out on fire Wednesday and looked as if they would run Lake County out of the gym. Christopher scored four points while Ollis and Chelsea Harper added two each in giving the Lady ‘Cats a quick 8-0 lead with 5:04 left in the first quarter.
The lead grew to as many as 10 points at 15-5 with 2:15 left in the quarter after Hall and Ollis combined for the next seven Lady ‘Cat points.
“It was huge for us to come out and hit shots at the beginning of the game with our experience,” Michelle Christopher said.
While the first six minutes couldn’t have gone much better, the next 13 minutes couldn’t have gone much worse for the Lady ‘Cats on offense.
The Lady ‘Cats didn’t score again in the first period, they got just four points from Harper in the second period, and they opened the second half by not scoring a basket for more than three minutes. That cold spell allowed the Lady Falcons to pull within one at 19-18 when Lake County freshman T.T. Flowers buried a three-pointer with 6:22 left in the third quarter.
“I think we got a little complacent,” coach Christopher said. “They (Lake County) have a great team and they’ve came back from 10 to 15 points several times this year. If not for our leadership, we might not have been able to weather the storm. Everybody stepped up when it mattered.”
As it turned out, Lake County’s 13-4 run only awoke the Lady ‘Cats as Oliver Springs ended the period on a 10-3 run to take a 29-21 lead into the final period of play.
Kasi Bilyeu started the run with a jumper in the paint and that was followed by baskets from Hannah Raby, Britanny Lively, Hall and Kela Pugh.
The run continued at the beginning of the final period as the Lady ‘Cats opened the final period with another 10-3 run to make the score 39-24 with 4:09 left to play.
Christopher started the run with a pair of free throws and ended the run with her second field goal of the night. Ollis and Hall combined for the other six points as the Lady ‘Cats had a comfortable 15-point lead.
Lake County tried to battle back by hitting three three-pointers in the final 3:32 of the game, but Oliver Springs made 11 free throws in the final 2:21 to put the finishing touches on the victory.
Freshman T.T. Flowers led the Lake County in defeat with 21 points and three assists while Mariah Matthews buried five triples for 15 points.
Up next for the Lady ‘Cats (25-8) is a semifinal contest with No. 1 ranked Clarkrange (37-0).
Clarkrange seems unbeatable as the Lady Buffaloes have an average margin of victory of 16.5 points on the season and only one opponent (Jackson County) has been less than 10 points of Clarkrange when the final horn sounded.
Clarkrange has already defeated Oliver Springs twice this year by scores of 61-45 at Clarkrange and 59-49 at Oliver Springs. The Lady Buffaloes also defeated Oliver Springs in the first round of last year’s state tournament, 55-46.
Despite the odds, the Lady ‘Cats are chomping at the bit to play the Lady Buffaloes.
“The girls wanted to match-up with Clarkrange,” coach Christopher said. “We’ve played them a lot over the year and we know they’re a great team, but we believe we can beat them. We like to do things the hard way.”
“We think they are a very beatable team,” Kayla Christopher added. “They’re not invincible like everybody says they are. We think we have a chance to win Friday and make it to the championship game.”
“We’re definitely going to have to bring our A-game,” Ollis said.
Oliver Springs (52) Christopher 11, Bilyeu 2, Harper 6, Ollis 12, Hall 14, Pugh 2, Lively 2, Raby 3.