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The Lady Panthers “didn’t play well enough to win” against the Lady Wildcats of Gallatin County, losing 51-40 in the first round of the 31st District tournament Tuesday, held at Henry County High School. This ends their streak of seven straight years the team has won their first-round game and thereby played in the 8th Region tournament.
“I told them in (the locker room) that I’m still kind of stunned, because I was very confident that we would play better and win the game, and we just sure didn’t,” head coach Randy Mefford said. “They have our number this year. They beat us three out of four games, and they’re a good team. I think this is their 17th win tonight, so it’s not like we’re losing to someone that’s real bad. They’re a good team, and it seems to be their year and they outplayed us.”
Gallatin senior Brooke Hill was virtually unstoppable from the inside, scoring a game-high 25 points. “Our best defender is Kyndal (Curry), and we really wanted to give her some help in there,” Mefford said. “We didn’t double-team her enough, and that was our game plan going in was to double-team Brooke Hill and it didn’t happen. But Brooke worked really hard without the basketball. Kyndal is undersized guarding in there, and I was hoping we could get enough pressure on the rest of them where they wouldn’t see to get the ball to her, but they were able to get the ball to her.”
Mefford said he had to “pick his poison” when it came to defending the Lady Wildcats (17-8) and decided to play off some of the perimeter players and focus on Hill, but they just did not get the job done. “When she comes ready to play and she stays out of foul trouble, she’s one of the best big girls in the 8th Region; there’s no doubt about that, and she was ready to play tonight.”
Gallatin also focused their defensive effort on Carroll’s best player, junior Hannah Devine, who was double- and triple-teamed all night. They also keyed on Tasha Hunter and Curry, leaving other players like Jill Butcher and junior Nikki Hill wide open for shots. Unfortunately, Carroll (15-13) shot 28 percent, 18 of 63, from the field, 3 of 23 from three-point range.
To Mefford’s dismay, the Lady Panthers also hit just one free throw on the night. “Gosh, we make 1 for 10 free throws? How do you expect to win when you hit 1 for 10 from the free throw line? We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win the game. It’s just a poor performance on our part, and I hate it for the seniors, because it’s their last go-around and they wanted it so bad.”
Despite their poor shooting performance, the Lady Panthers were still within striking distance late in the game. Carroll was down only one point, 37-36, after Hunter dribbled into the lane and hit a pull-up floater with 5:18 to go in the fourth quarter. However, Gallatin rattled off six straight points to push the lead back out to seven with 3:28 left. The Lady Panthers would only score two more buckets: a mid-range jumper by Butcher with 1:40 left and a lay-up by Devine on a give-and-go with Hill with 16.4 seconds to go, the last points of the game.
Devine led the team with a double-double, 16 points and 10 rebounds, but was held without a three-point field goal and shot only one free throw. Curry led the team in rebounds with 12 and added seven points. Butcher scored eight points, while Hunter added five points and Hill had four points.
The loss closed out the careers of the three Lady Panther seniors: Butcher, Curry and Hunter.
“The three seniors, they’ve been a joy to coach, and I’ve enjoyed every minute with them,” Mefford said. “I told the kids in the locker room, there are some big shoes left to fill next year. There’s some opportunities to fill. I also talked to them about, you know, remember the good things in your career. Kyndal and Tasha and Jill have a lot of really good moments in their career where they had some success on the court. … I’m just really proud of the effort they’ve given us and that’s what keeps me in coaching is being able to coach kids like that.”
Looking toward next season, Mefford said the key will be continuing to develop the support system around Devine so she is not carrying the offensive load alone. “We’ve got some rebuilding to do, no doubt,” he said, “but hopefully we can bounce back and have a successful season.”