By Stephen Smoot
A month ago, Pendleton County traveled to Tucker County and came away with a big signature win. Last week, the Wildcats faced a hungry Mountain Lion squad bent on avenging that loss. Tucker County sports a set of players with height and interior skills, but Pendleton County’s Gabby DePue and Baylee Beachler have faced down such challenges all season.
Additionally, the team hosted and honored Richard “Cricket” Bennett who scored 53 points against Mathias 63 years ago while playing for Franklin High School.
Pendleton County controlled the opening tipoff and Ana Young made an immediate statement. Only five seconds into the game, she drew a foul on Tucker County. Young made two of three free throws. Tucker County drew a foul of their own only 20 seconds later and made one of two.
With both teams playing fast and physical, fouls and free throws took a leading role in determining the course and outcome of the game.
Scoring came at a premium for both teams early on as the defenses came ready to play. With 3:50 left in the first, Lizzie Alt hit a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 7-4 lead. This came after her team pulled down four offensive rebounds to extend the possession. After a Mountain Lion layup, Young took a steal all the way down the court for a layup. Thirty seconds later, she hit a three-pointer to extend the lead to 12-6. A Tucker County layup with 27 seconds left set the quarter’s score at 12-8.
Defense continued to dominate through much of the second quarter. Jameigh Miller used a pass from Young to execute a turnaround jump shot that gave Pendleton County a 14-10 lead with a minute gone in the second.
The game stayed tight until about the three-minute mark. A steal and a block by DePue helped to keep Tucker County’s offense in check for a time. Then the Mountain Lions found their long range shot and started blistering a Wildcat defense that continued to play well. At about the four-minute mark, Tucker County hit a three to take a 19-16 lead. They hit three more such shots, along with a layup, to end the quarter on a 17-5 run. Jenna Smith hit a three and broke up a Tucker County fast break to help the Wildcats stay within range.
Through the first half, Young kept her teammates involved, hitting them with precise passes to force their opponents to guard each player and not focus on her. In the second half, however, she and Avery Townsend played key roles in bringing their team back into the game.
The third quarter started much as the second quarter ended, however, with the Mountain Lions shooting well and enjoying most of the breaks. They outscored Pendleton County 7-0 in the first two minutes of the second half and reached a commanding 17-point lead. Young then sliced into it with a three-point shot and then a six-footer. Townsend followed that with a 17-foot shot of her own to erase that run.
From the 5:49 mark in the third quarter through the end of the game, Pendleton County outscored Tucker County 31-14. Even more remarkably, the Wildcats did much of this with DePue injured and unable to return and Alt fouling out in the fourth. That left Baylee Beachler as the most experienced post defender left to slow down Tucker County’s huge inside height advantage. Her smart and aggressive play helped her team climb back into the contest.
Pendleton County’s relentless push to get back into contention came in part from its defense. Townsend and Nataley Hedrick stuck tight to the opposing guards. Young also seemed to steal the ball sometimes at will, taking advantage of the slightest ball handling mistakes and often turning them into Wildcat baskets at the other end.
The fourth quarter started with Pendleton County only down 44-38. Townsend and Young in the first minute took steals the distance for layups to bring their team within four, but Tucker County pushed it back to six with a layup. Alt then scored a layup off of a Young pass to pull the team within four again. After a made free throw by the opposition, Young picked the pocket of the Tucker County point guard and once again scored a fast break basket to set the score at 49-46 with 2:37 left.
Throughout the game, the crowd for both sides remained vocal. In the last three minutes, it was a roar. With 1:56 left, Young hit an eight-foot baseline shot from a seemingly impossible angle to pull the Wildcats within one. After a layup and two made free throws by the Mountain Lions, Young hit a three with 46.7 seconds left to once again pull her team into a position where one shot could tie the game.
At 32 seconds, Hedrick stole the ball as the Wildcats pressed the inbound pass. Tucker County benefited from a foul call and hit two free throws to put the lead back at four with 25 seconds left. Then Young hit another three to set the score at 55-54 with 14.4 seconds. Pendleton County immediately fouled and put the Mountain Lions on the line with 11.3 seconds left.
Tucker County hit one of two from the line and held a tenuous two-point lead with 11.3 seconds left ant Pendleton County needing to drive the length of the floor. Young launched a tightly defended shot from the right corner that fell short with a few seconds left and the game ended with a 56-54 loss.
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