SPARTA - Cannon County was on the verge of reaching the District 8-AA Championship game for the third straight year until Upperman did what it has done so well all season in the final minutes of the tournament semifinals at White County High School Friday.
Upperman (27-2) turned back Cannon County (24-7), 39-35, in an outstanding game that saw the Lionettes lead virtually the entire game before falling short down the stretch. It marked the third loss of the season to the Bees and the second straight by five points or less.
Finding ways to win is why Upperman is Upperman. The Bees have won nine games this season by five points or less and seven of those nine games were decided by three points or less.
Cannon County will face Smith County in today's consolation game at 3 p.m. at White County High School. Upperman will play Livingston Academy in the title game at 7 p.m.
"I couldn't ask for anything more defensively," Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen said of his team's stout defensive effort. "We played very well and gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We just gave up a few too many offensive rebounds and we had one turnover in the fourth quarter but it was a tough one. We didn't have a lot of mistakes but in these games those mistakes are magnified because you know what it at stake."
Both teams had already assured themselves a berth in next week's Region 4-AA Tournament but each played like their season was on the line in the 8-AA semifinals.
Joanna Young led the Lionettes with 11 points and three rebounds. Abbey Sissom failed to reach double figures for the first time this season as she finished with eight. Lindsey Reed and Jordan Hollis added seven each.
District 8-AA Player of the Year Taylor Randolph sparked Upperman with a game-high 14 points but she scored 10 of them with the game on the line in the final quarter. Kat Carter finished with nine points.
Cannon County, which vaulted to a 12-2 lead at the outset, held Upperman to 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in the first half and led 17-13 at the break.
The Lionettes led 26-24 after the third quarter and stretched the advantage back to four, 30-26, following Young's driving layup with 6:04 remaining, but Randolph knocked down a 3-pointer that ignited a 9-1 run and provided Upperman a 37-31 lead with 2:37 to play.
Cannon County fought back and trailed 37-35 after Sissom's jumper with 1:32 remaining but they couldn't complete the win.
"We just couldn't finish," Dodgen said. "In two previous games against them this year we haven't started well but we finished well. Tonight we started great but we didn't finish. We just have to bounce back and be ready to play (Saturday). It's tough but it's still about coming back and putting yourself in the best possible position."