By TONY STINNETT/ Courier Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE – Cannon County will be seeking more than a Region 4-AA championship when it faces Livingston Academy in the Region 4-AA title game at Cookeville High School tonight at 7 p.m.
Both teams know they are in the TSSAA Sub-state round Saturday regardless of the outcome of tonight’s outcome but the winner of the showdown between two of the state’s top Class AA teams will earn the right to host a Sub-state game. The region runners-up will have to travel to either McMinn Central or East Hamilton Saturday.
The No. 7-ranked Lionettes (27-5) won the Region 4-AA championship in 2010 and 2011.
“You don’t want to become satisfied, not now,” said Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen. “Our goal is to get that home game on Saturday. You really don’t fear anybody at this point but you want to play at home. We have worked hard to get in this position and it would be great for our seniors to get to play one more home game. We have to come in ready to play (against Livingston Academy). We need a big crowd (in Cookeville).”
Cannon County swept Livingston Academy (28-6) during the regular season on its way to earning the top seed in the District 8-AA Tournament. The Lady Wildcats (28-6) turned back the Lionettes in overtime in the District 8-AA Tournament championship game.
“We know what Livingston is going to do and they know what we are going to do,” Dodgen said. “It’s really who wants it the most. It’s two quality teams playing with a lot on the line and that’s the way it should be at this time of the year.”
Cannon County reached the Region 4-AA championship by turning back Upperman, 51-38, in one semifinal game Monday. Livingston Academy disposed of York in the other.
Two-time Miss Basketball Finalist Abbey Sissom led the Lionettes with 26 points against Upperman. Sissom had an outstanding night and helped break open a close game at halftime with a stellar second half.
Senior guard Jordan Hollis finished with 10 points, followed by Madison Walkup with six and Abby Jakes and Ashley Basham netted four each.
“The big thing is we played solid defense,” Sissom said. “Our defense was really strong and it had to be against Upperman because they have played with a lot of confidence during their tournament run. (Jakes and Hollis) were really good and Madison and Macy (Clements) stepped up so it was a good team win. We just have to stay focused and have a good outing against Livingston Academy. We really would like to get another home game.”
Upperman made things difficult for the Lionettes initially and trailed 24-23 at halftime; however, Cannon County ambushed the Lady Bees in the second half. Cannon County outscored Upperman 27-15 in the pivotal second half to break the game open.
Sissom opened the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 30-23 with 4:54 remaining and send a message of things to come. Sissom, who scored 20 or more for the 21st time this season, was 4-of-5 from the field in the second half.
Upperman would not go away and climbed back to within two late in the third quarter and trailed 37-32 going to the fourth stanza.
“It’s a tough game to play from the simple fact that it is an elimination game,” said Dodgen, who has the Lionettes in the Region 4-AA championship for the third time in four years. “Upperman is a team that has nothing to lose coming into the game. Nobody expected them to be here but themselves. They did a good job and battled. They played us tooth and nail and they didn’t stop.”
The Lionettes didn’t stop either.
They ended any thoughts of an upset with a strong fourth quarter that started with a 10-3 Cannon County run. Sissom scored six straight during the run and scored 10 of her 26 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Defense also was spectacular. The Lionettes held Upperman to 2-of-11 from the field in the fourth quarter and didn’t allow a field goal for the first seven minutes as they were able to pull away. Walkup, Clements and Jakes were stoppers during the second half run and made their presence felt.
Upperman stayed in the game by dominating the boards in the first half, particularly on the offensive end. Most of their 23 first-half points were generated by second shot opportunities. Ashley Basham, Emily Pemberton, Rebekah Faulkner and Arianna Kailiponi controlled the boards much better in the second half.
Kat Carter led the Bees with 10 points.