Cannon County had hoped to put Livingston Academy's championship celebration on hold but the Lady Wildcats flexed their muscle to capture a 50-45 win against the Lionettes in a showdown of league powers at a packed Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Friday (Feb. 5).
Livingston Academy broke a 44-44 tie in the final seconds and clinched the regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the District 8-AA Tournament, which begins Feb. 17 in Sparta. Cannon County needs one more win to lock up the No. 3 seed.
Cannon County did not get the favorable outcome it had hoped for but the Lionettes (20-6, 4-4) did put forth a much more formidable performance than in an earlier 20-point loss at Livingston Academy earlier this season.
"I knew we would respond," Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. "The girls played hard, competed and gave themselves a chance to win. Little things magnify in a game like this but those girls played hard. I can't complain with the effort; we just didn't do some of the little things down the stretch."
Chelsey Payne turned in a double double to lead Cannon County. The senior forward scored 14 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, and Lauren Ruehlen added 12 points and seven rebounds; however, Cannon County's perimeter game was absent. Taylor King and Abbey Sissom had six points each, but leading scorer Emily Sissom was held scoreless on her 18th birthday.
Emily Sissom, who was honored for reaching the 2,000-point plateau prior to the game, had few opportunities to score. The Union signee got off just six shots - three in each half. Abbey Sissom had just three looks and hit two of them - both 3-pointers.
"When we were in a game like this where people are going to face guard I have to get it on msyelf to do a better job of setting them up to get more open looks," Dodgen said. "Livingston Academy is probably more worried about Emily than anyone we have played all year and we have to do a better job of getting our shooters open looks, which will also compliment our inside game."
Even without its leading scorer producing a point, Cannon County still had chances to win but its inability to cash in at the free-throw line loomed large. The Lionettes were 11-of-19 from the line. Livingston Academy was 10-of-11.
Cannon County had two chances to tie the game in the final 25 seconds. Trailing 46-44, Ruehlen took a pass on the wing and drove toward the goal, drawing the foul with 23 seconds remaining. She hit the first free throw but missed the second to pull the Lionettes to within 46-45. After the Lady Wildcats connected for a pair of charity tosses to increase the margin to 48-45, Cannon County was looking to force overtime but Emily Sissom was out of bounds on the sideline when she received a pass for a potential 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining.
"In a game like this you can pinpoint some things, and we just have to do the little things right in a game of this magnitude," Dodgen said. "We missed eight free throws and two were the front end of one-and-ones."
Cannon County will conclude the regular season with three games this week. The Lionettes play host to Forrest Tuesday (Feb. 8) and will have Senior Night against Smith County (Feb. 11), before traveling to York Saturday (Feb. 12). Tipoff for the York game has been moved to 4 p.m.