- It was a tale of two halves for Cannon County in its showdown against perennial power Livingston Academy in the championship of the District 8-AA Tournament here Monday.
The Lionettes stormed out to a 14-point halftime lead and led by as many as 15 in the opening half before succumbing to the Lady Wildcats, 55-52, in an action-packed title game at White County's Sewell Gymnasium.
All was not lost for the Lionettes. No. 8 Cannon County (25-7) will play host to Sequatchie County in the first round of the Region 4-AA Tournament at Robert A. Harris Gymnasium Friday. There are no easy games remaining at this juncture but, at the same time, few will be disappointed to realize the setback also places the Lionettes opposite No. 4 Livingston Academy and No. 5 Upperman in the Region 4-AA bracket
"Friday is an elimination game and somebody is going home so we have to battle back and be ready against a good Sequatchie County team," Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen said. "I'm proud of the girls effort and the way they played throughout this tournament. We are still in a good situation. We just have to be ready to go."
The Lionettes were ready to go Monday.
Emily Sissom had one of her best shooting nights, knocking down five 3-pointers and connecting on 6-of-8 shots from the field to lead the Lionettes with 19. Chelsey Payne finished with 10 and Taylor King added seven. Sissom, King, Payne and freshman Abbey Sissom were all named to the All-Tournament team.
Those first-half contributions, and airtight defense, along with solid rebounding, ignited a remarkable second-quarter rally that resulted in a 25-12 run and a 38-24 lead.
"That was probably one of the best first halves we have played this year," Dodgen said.
As good as things may have been in the first half, Cannon County knew Livingston Academy (25-4) would not back down.
They were right.
By the end of the third quarter, Livingston Academy had pulled to within 46-40 to set up an intense finish.
"We can't let this loss get us down because we have to come right back Friday," Sissom said. "We knew Livingston Academy was not going to go away. Livingston is a good team and they are not going to back down. We knew they would make a run."
Sissom's offense was a big reason for Cannon County's offensive avalanche in the first half. After missing two first-quarter 3-pointers, Sissom didn't miss another shot the rest of the game. She buried four straight treys and added two free throws for 16 points - in the second quarter alone.
Already the all-time leading 3-point shooter in the history of Tennessee girls basketball with more than 370, Sissom's back-to-back, long-range 3s separated the team midway through the second quarter.
Leading 23-18, Sissom connected for a long 3-pointer to extend the lead to 26-18 with 4:42 remaining. She followed that with an even deeper 3-pointer at the 4:22 mark to put the Lionettes in front, 29-18, their largest lead of the game to that point. Her fourth 3-pointer of the quarter provided a 35-20 cushion with 1:08 remaining.
"I was shooting with a lot of confidence," Emily Sissom said. "The crowd and the bench was helping me a lot. After I hit that first one the crowd was in it, then after I hit the second one there was a lot of encouragement and my confidence was really up."
The second half was a different story for Sissom and the Lionettes.
Guarded by Mallory Mahaney, Emily Sissom only got one shot in the second half - a 27-foot 3-pointer with four seconds remaining to pull Cannon County to within 53-52 with four seconds remaining.
"(Mahaney) really picked up her defense on Emily and their team did a better job in the second half," Dodgen said. "That was a different Livingston defense in the second half. Emily didn't score but she did a good job of passing the ball and handling the ball and getting her teammates involved."
The Wildcats had cut the lead to 42-40 with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter, but Abbey Sissom converted back-to-back field goals to send the Lionettes into the final quarter with a 46-40 advantage. They maintained that edge until Samantha Mayo, who led Livingston Academy with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, finished a three-point play to give her team a 50-48 lead with 1:05 remaining. It was Livingston Academy's first lead since early in the first quarter.
Cannon County missed two attempts on its next possession and Livingston Academy was 5-of-5 at the free-throw line in the final 32 seconds to seal the win.
"I thought we played well in the first half," Dodgen said. "You have to play two halves when you are playing a team like that and we didn't play as well in the second half. The shots we made in the first half, we just didn't make them in the second half."
Livingston Academy started the game on a 8-0 run before Cannon County turned up the pressure and closed the first half on a 38-16 run to take early control. The Lionettes were 11-of-26 from the field in the first half, including 8-of-11 in the second quarter. They were 5-of-5 from 3-point range during that span with Emily Sissom hitting four and JoAnna Young converting her only attempt.
Then came the second half.
Cannon County was just 6-of-18 in the second half with 13 turnovers, after committing just four turnovers in the entire first half.
First-round Region 4-AA games are held at host sites. The four winners will play the semifinals and championship at White County High School, Monday and Wednesday, respectively.