Lionettes Proud, But Not Satisfied

TONY STINNETT, Courier Co-Editor

MURFREESBORO - It took the No. 1-ranked team in Tennessee to end Cannon County's quest for a state championship.

No. 1 McMinn Central (34-1) turned back No. 8 Cannon County, 52-41, in the semifinals of the TSSAA Class AA Girls State Championships at MTSU's Murphy Center Friday afternoon, ending one of the best seasons in program history.

"I'm definitely proud of our team and how far we have come, but I don't think I will ever be satisfied," said senior Taylor King, who finished with six points and 10 rebounds. "I just feel like this was our game, this was our tournament and this was our time. We just didn't get it so I don't think there is any satisfaction."

It marked the second straight year McMinn Central ended Cannon County's season. The Lady Chargerettes stopped the Lionettes (30-8) in the Sub-state round last year - one game shy of the state tournament.

This time McMinn Central stopped Cannon County one game shy of what would have been the school's fifth appearance in the championship game. Cannon County, which dealt McMinn Central its only loss of the season in November, was making its first state tournament appearance in 19 years.

"McMinn Central is a good team but we beat them once and we know we could have beat them again," said senior Emily Sissom, who scored eight points and had two assists. "That's what makes this hurt worse. They are not better than us but we didn't play our best game today. It was right there for us to take and we fell short."

Cannon County's players did not put together one of their better games of the season but still battled and was in a one-possession game in the fourth quarter despite shooting just 25 percent (10-of-39) from the field, including 1-of-10 from 3-point range. The off-shooting game also reared its head at the free-throw line where the Lionettes were an uncharacteristic 60 percent (20-of-33).

Chelsey Payne, who led the Lionettes with 14 points and eight rebounds, was 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. Take those out and Cannon County was a stunning 10-of-23 (43 percent) from the charity stripe.

"We missed way too many free throws in this game," Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. "We just didn't make shots and whether that is a credit to McMinn Central's defense or us just not hitting shots, you never know, but I felt like we were getting the shots we wanted. They just didn't fall."

Cannon County connected on just 4-of-21 shots and was 0-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half when they fell behind 13-4 after the opening quarter and trailed 28-17 at halftime.

"It really wasn't a matter of their defense because we got shots. We just didn't knock them down," Sissom said.

McMinn Central forwards Elizabeth Masengil and Miss Basketball Finalist Jenna Adams were the story for the Lady Chargerettes. They combined for 35 of the team's 52 points and also collected 19 rebounds. Masengil led all scorers with 19 points and Adams added 16 points and 15 rebounds.

"They were really physical and it is hard as a small team to guard big, physical girls,"  Payne said. "We just had a lot of things that didn't go our way today. There were just a lot of things that hurt us. We missed shots we usually hit and we missed too many free throws."

Despite a poor first-half that not only included poor shooting, but also seven turnovers, Cannon County still believed it was in the game trailing by 11.

"We were down 11 at the half and we talked about getting it to five or less to start the fourth quarter and go from there," Dodgen said.

The Lionettes charged out of the locker room and used a 13-5 third quarter to narrow the deficit to 33-30 entering the final quarter. King and Sissom keyed the charge and were able to get Adams and Masengil in foul trouble with each collecting their fourth in the third quarter.

The Lionettes cut the lead to 35-33 on JoAnna Young's 3-pointer from the baseline with 7:36 remaining and her short jumper with 5:55 remaining kept Cannon County within two, 37-35. Just when it seemed the Lionettes had momentum Adams took over and led a 5-0 run as McMinn Central jumped back in front by seven, 42-35, with 4:53 remaining.

"It's like we exerted so much energy just to get there and we never could get over that final hurdle," Dodgen said. "The girls battled and battled and gave themselves a chance. They never quit."

Payne's layup with 2:50 remaining cut the lead to 42-39 but McMinn Central used a 10-2 run to close the game and end the Lionettes' dreams of securing what would have been just the second state title in school history.

Not being able to get Adams or Masengil out of the game in the fourth quarter, despite each having four fouls, was costly as they controlled the game and the boards down the stretch; however, Dodgen said Cannon County continued to go right at them, just as they did in the third quarter.

"From an offensive standpoint we didn't change anything we did in the third quarter during the fourth quarter," Dodgen said. "We kept attacking the basket and going at it. We had good looks. We didn't change. I don't know what the difference was (in contact not being called), but we didn't change."

There were other questionable calls throughout a game where officials Greg Mathis, Suzanne Byrd and Pete Norville combined to call 50 fouls. The teams combined for 58 free throws. Byrd hit Dodgen with a technical after Kelsey Young's 3-pointer pushed McMinn Central's lead to 28-17 with 20 seconds remaining in the half. Dodgen said he was telling Byrd that McMinn Central had six players on the court when he was called for the foul.

"The official handed the ball to the player and there were six girls on the court," Dodgen said. "The girls runs off the floor as the official is counting. If they didn't see it, they didn't see it. That's part of it. I voiced my opinion and I was penalized, so be it, but when six were on the floor, six were on the floor."

Had the sixth player been seen on the court when the ball was put in play then McMinn Central would have been hit with a technical, Young would not have hit the 3-pointer, and Cannon County would have regained possession in what was an eight-point game before the 3-pointer following six girls being on the court. It was a potential eight-point swing the Lionettes never had an opportunity to secure.

Another questionable call was an intentional foul called on Young, also by Byrd, with 56 seconds remaining in a five-point game.

"They said (Young) shoved (Masengil) from behind," Dodgen said. "It was a physical game. It was a game where a lot of things went down and there were a lot of kids rolling around on the floor. If (Young) shoved her and it was an intentional foul then it was an intentional foul, but there were a lot of things that went on that could have been called, intentional or not."

In the end, what opportunities Cannon County did receive at the free-throw line - 33 of them - were not taken advantage of as the Lionettes misfired on 13 attempts.

They did hold their own on the boards and were outrebounded 34-33 by the bigger McMinn Central team.

Young and Abbey Sissom scored five each for the Lionettes.

Cannon County's semifinal finish is the school's best since the Class AA State Championship team in 1989.