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Season ends for Lady 'Cats

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By The Staff

By GOOSE LINDSAY

Roane Newspapers

A fabulous postseason run came to a disappointing end Monday night for the Oliver Springs Lady Bobcats as Michelle Christopher's squad dropped a heartbreaking 52-50 decision at the hands of Coalfield in the Region 2-A Tournament semifinals played at Wartburg.

Making the region semis is nothing new for the Lady 'Cats as Monday's appearance marked the ninth straight year the Lady 'Cats have advanced to this point. Losing, however, is something the Lady 'Cats aren't accustomed to as Oliver Springs was 7-1 in region semifinal contests dating back to their days in Region 2-AA.

What was different this year was the fact that Oliver Springs wasn't expected to make it this far. After four consecutive state tournament appearances, graduation hit the Lady 'Cats hard as seven of their top nine players from last season were gone, including three-time all-state selection Kayla Christopher. Those losses played a major factor in Oliver Springs posting an 8-18 record entering postseason play, but once in the postseason, the Lady 'Cats had gone a perfect 4-0 and had captured last week's District 4-A Tournament.

"It was a very trying and hard season, but these girls made a great run in the postseason," Lady 'Cat head coach Michelle Christopher said following the loss. "Coalfield came ready to play tonight like I knew they would. I don't think we played our best, but we still had a chance to win it. If we do just a couple of things right then we win. I think our youth showed up tonight."

Oliver Springs didn't look inexperienced early as the Lady 'Cats used two early three-pointers from Chelsea Harper to take a 9-3 lead with 2:33 left in the opening quarter.

The next six minutes of game time, however, would see the Lady 'Cats struggle to score. Coalfield took advantage of the ice-cold Lady 'Cats as they scored 13 straight points to take a 16-9 lead with 6:19 left in the opening half.

Harper broke the 6:01 scoring drought with a three-pointer at the 4:32 mark of the second quarter and the rest of the half would see the teams trading points until Coalfield took a 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Oliver Springs had trailed at halftime in each of their four postseason games and they had come back to win all four entering Monday. In the third period, it appeared as if the Lady 'Cats were ready to work their magic again. Behind five points each from Harper and Katie Harvey along with four from Leigha Carter, the Lady 'Cats went on a 16-8 run to take a 37-32 lead with 59 seconds left in the third period.

But before the Lady 'Cats could take that momentum into the final frame, Coalfield's Tallesse Jones buried a three-pointer that cut Oliver Springs' lead to 37-35 entering the fourth quarter. The Lady Jackets then regained the lead at 38-37 when Samantha Hamby opened the final period with an old-fashioned three-point play.

The score would seesaw back and forth until the five minute mark, but that's when Coalfield's Alaina Jordan sparked a 6-0 run with a pair of baskets that gave the Lady Jackets a seemingly safe 47-41 lead with three minutes left to play.

Oliver Springs, however, came right back as Hannah Raby capped a 7-2 run with an old-fashioned three-point play that cut the deficit to 49-48 with 1:41 left to play.

Jones made it 50-48 after hitting a free throw with 44.6 seconds left then Harvey tied the score at 50 when she hit two free throws with 33 seconds left.

Oliver Springs appeared ready to complete the comeback when Maleah Murray was fouled on a missed Coalfield shot with 4.9 seconds left, but Murray would miss the front end of a one-and-one then disaster struck Oliver Springs on the ensuing rebound. During the scramble for a loose rebound, Oliver Springs' Kelsey Christopher was called for a foul with 2.3 seconds left.

"It looked like Kelsey had the rebound there and Alaina took it from her," coach Christopher said. "You'd like for a player to just step back right there because she's so far away from the basket with 2.3 seconds left, but I don't think that even a player with a lot of experience would back off in that situation. That was just a player giving effort and trying to make a play."

Jordan then made the Lady 'Cats pay as she hit both free throws with 2.3 seconds left.

Oliver Springs had one last chance, but Harvey's heave from half court was off the mark.

Harper led Oliver Springs on the night with 20 points and seven rebounds while Harvey chipped in 14 points and four steals. Murray and Carter tossed in six points each with Murray pulling down a game-high eight rebounds.

Jones (15 points, 5 rebounds) and Jordan (14 points, 5 rebounds) did the most damage for Coalfield. Hamby also scored in double figures for the Lady Jackets.

Coalfield will play Wartburg Wednesday in the Region 2-A championship game.

Coalfield (52) Jordan 14, Hamby 10, Walls 6, Jones 15, Elsea 7.

Oliver Springs (50) Harper 20, Harvey 14, Raby 3, Murray 6, Carter 6, Presnell 1.