HARTSVILLE - The girls' championship game of the Trousdale County Holiday Tournament became a district preview when 8-AA rivals Cannon County and Smith County collided for the title Friday (Dec. 30).
As is the case most nights in District 8-AA action, the game was hard fought from the outset before Cannon County pulled away in the fourth quarter to claim a 59-41 championship win. The surging Lionettes (15-3) notched their 15th win before the start of the new year by winning their fourth straight and eighth in nine tries.
Abbey Sissom led four Lionettes on the All-Tournament squad. Sissom was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a game-high 24 points, collecting three assists and four steals. Jordan Hollis, Lindsey Reed and Joanna Young also earned All-Tournament honors following three solid performances.
"Smith County is a much, much, much improved basketball team," Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. "We had to play hard. We went in cold turkey with them a little. We had seen them twice here in person but it's not like watching them on film or scouting. I'm really proud of the way the kids battled. It is a big win on a neutral court."
In addition to Sissom's 24, Young scored 12 points and collected five steals. They were the only Lionettes with double figures. Ashley Basham added six, Macy Clements, Lindsey Reed and Hollis finished with five and Emily Pemberton added two.
"It was a tough game and we knew it would be because Smith County is a good basketball team," Sissom said. "We had a lot of players step up in this game and that's what it takes to win championships."
Two of the biggest players to step to the forefront were Clements and Pemberton.
The game was contested throughout but Cannon County appeared to be pulling away when Sissom's long 3-pointer provided a 32-19 cushion with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter. Less than a minute later Young was whistled for her fourth foul and had to sit.
Smith County's Tricia Smith connected for a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 32-22 with 3:43 remaining in the third. The Lionettes suffered a scare on the next possession when Sissom took a hit and went to the court. She exited the game with 3:12 remaining in the third, leaving two starters on the bench.
The Lady Owls (9-7) sensed an opportunity to get back in the game but Clements' perimeter play and Pemberton's post presence created problems. Smith County did cut into the lead but Cannon County still maintained a 38-34 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Dodgen went with a bigger lineup with Young and Sissom on the bench, utilizing Basham and Pemberton inside, along with Reed, Hollis and Clements.
"In a way I'm glad we had to go through that situation without Abbey on the floor," Dodgen said. ""It was a different look for us, and I thought we handled it OK. You have to be able to handle that because you never know when she may be in foul trouble. Clements and Pemberton played very well out there and it speaks volumns about how much better they are getting. That's big because you have to have that come (postseason) tournament time."
Sissom's injury was a thigh bruise and she was able to return in the fourth quarter. She, in fact, returned with a vengeance. Sissom was 4-of-4 from the field in the fourth quarter, including a driving left-handed layup with 3:13 remaining to pushed the lead back to 10, 47-37, with 3:13 remaining.
The Lionettes finished the game strong with Sissom knocking down four shots, Clements coming through with two clutch jumpers and Pemberton finishing a layup. Cannon County was 10-of-13 from the field in the decisive fourth quarter and its smothering defense not only limited the Lady Owls to 1-of-8 shooting in the final stanza; but also forced five consecutive stops in the final 2:19 after Smith County had pulled to within 49-41.
Because of the way they performed during critical stages of the third quarter, Dodgen stayed with Clements and Pemberton with the game on the line in the fourth.
"Pemberton just did a good job so I felt comfortable with her out there, and I was really proud of the way Clements stepped up and hit those two shots," Dodgen said. "The key to the game was the five stops we got there at the end."
Callie Hackett and Tricia Smith led Smith County with 18 and 16 points, respectively. The Lionettes had a strong shooting night. They were 16-of-29 (55 percent) from the field in the second half after shooting 48 percent (10-of-21) in the first two quarters. Cannon County was 26-of-50 (52 percent) for the game.
The Lionettes will be at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium for two games this week. They face Warren County Tuesday at 6 p.m., before a huge District 8-AA showdown against Livingston Academy Friday at 6 p.m.