SPARTA – One by one players filed out of the Cannon County locker room, still seemingly looking for answers and explanations as to how they let one get away.
Coaches were equally baffled in the aftermath of the Lionettes’ crushing 52-49 loss against Livingston Academy (30-3) in the Region 4-AA semifinals at White County High School Monday (Feb. 27).
That Cannon County (26-8) lost the epic battle between two of the state’s Class AA powers is not all that perplexing but the manner in which the Lionettes’ season ended is.
The Lionettes led by as many as 15 in the first half and 31-19 at the half before imploding in the second half of the season-ending setback. Livingston Academy advanced into the Region 4-AA Championship against Grundy County, which upset Upperman 36-32.
“This one is going to hurt,” Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. “I felt like we were the better team tonight. It just didn’t happen. We have been on both sides of those. It just didn’t happen for us.”
Class AA Miss Basketball finalist Abbey Sissom led the Lionettes with 19 points and joined the school’s 1,000-point club. She entered the game needing 14 points to reach 1,000 and achieved that accomplishment with a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter.
Lindsey Reed capped her brilliant prep career with another solid performance. She finished with nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds. Fellow senior Joanna Young also finished strong with four points, seven rebounds and tenacious defense.
Ashley Basham also was strong with six points, five rebounds and three blocks, and Madison Walkup and Rebekah Faulkner provided sparks off of the bench.
“We gave it all we had and we really believed we were going to win this game,” Reed said. “It is just one of those things. It is hard to explain. It’s really hard to understand right now.”
Cannon County spent the first half building a 31-19 halftime lead on the strength of outstanding shooting, precise penetration and sterling defense. The Lionettes converted 6-of-7 field goals in the second quarter, during which time they were 2-of-3 from 3-point range. They were 11-of-20 from the field in the first half.
“That was a great first half,” Sissom said. “We came out and executed and were able to do the things we had talked about doing. It’s hard to explain what happened in the third quarter.”
Cannon County was as bad in the third quarter as it was good in the first half.
The Lionettes were outscored 16-2 in the third quarter. They were 1-of-5 from the field and four of those five attempts were errant 3-point shots. Worse, the Lionettes turned the ball over seven times in the third quarter, including six out of eight possessions. The final turnover during the stretch resulted in Marlee Sells’ three-point play that provided Livingston Academy a 33-31 lead – its first of the game - with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Sissom’s layup with 12 seconds was Cannon County’s only field goal of the third quarter. The Lionettes trailed 35-33 entering the final quarter.
“We quit doing what we did in the first half,” Dodgen said. “We quit attacking. It all comes back to the third quarter. I thought we were focused. We talked about halftime adjustments we felt they were going to make and we talked about some we needed to make, but I just don’t know.”
Cannon County turned it around in the fourth quarter and the contest became a battle to the finish between two of the state’s top teams in Class AA basketball.
Basham’s 3-footer on an inbound play provided the Lionettes a 46-43 lead with 1:29 remaining. They led 46-45 with less than 50 seconds remaining but Sissom was tied up, resulting in a jump ball. Livingston Academy had possession and answered with Abby Miller’s layup to go back in front 47-46 with 35 seconds remaining.
Sissom misfired on a 10-footer with 27 seconds remaining and the Wildcats knocked down 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal the win. The Lionettes also were guilty of missing three shots from within three feet of the basket in the final three minutes.
“These kids fought hard and I appreciate everything they have put into this program,” Dodgen said. “Our effort was really good and our intensity was good. I hate it for these kids because they put in a lot of work and effort.”