KINGSPORT - It would be incorrect hyperbole to label Tuesday night as the biggest game of the year for Sullivan South's girls basketball team.
To hear the Lady Rebels' coach and players tell it, South's 70-58 win over Science Hill was, in fact, the biggest accomplishment in three years.
Natalie Pickwell led all scorers with 24 points and post Samantha Williams added 19 as South handed Science Hill its first Big 9 Conference loss of the season.
"That might be the biggest win of my career," South coach Josh Tate said. "I'm only three years into it, but that's a gigantic win."
The Hilltopper boys gave their school a split of the varsity action, besting South by a 70-52 margin in the nightcap.
Still, the Lady Rebels' win was the big news of the night, and Williams and Pickwell were the primary reasons behind the victory.
"This is probably the first time we've had all year that both girls came really ready to play at the same time," said Tate, who played only seven girls and used his five starters for the entire first half. "We had two girls with three fouls in the second quarter, I just told them to stay out there. We were playing so well, my goodness."
And Williams played well out of position. Usually South's go-to player in the paint, she played point guard in place of Ashley Johnson, who was out with an illness. Johnson is expected back Friday.
"It was different," Williams said of the temporary position shift. "I haven't played point, maybe not even since middle school. I had to rise to the challenge, but my teammates, they helped me out and were supportive."
With the score tied at 26 at the half, South (11-9, 6-6) took the lead for good by dropping 20 points on the 'Toppers during the third period. Pickwell scored 10 in that frame.
"Tonight we played the best we've ever played as a team," Pickwell said.
Williams said the host team got fired up by a perceived slight by Science Hill's team during pregame.
"We were fired up before the game because they were so disrespectful toward us," she said. "They're not going to come in our home court and treat us like that. When we were getting ready to go out, they were laughing and joking around in warmups."
Grace Collins added 16 points for South.
Jordan Douglas and Johneshia Good led Science Hill (19-5, 10-1) with 15 and 13 points, respectively.
"You've got to look at the big picture," Lady Hilltoppers coach Darrell Barnwell said. "We've still got the opportunity to win this conference in the regular season. We've just got to take care of business."
The same could be said of Science Hill's boys, who lived up to their current first-place billing in a dismantling of South.
"It's time to get it rolling," senior Omar Wattad said. "We're young, but it's been a long season, no more excuses. I don't want to jinx us but I don't really believe in that stuff anyway. It's time to roll."
Aaron Willey and Reid Powell, two of the Rebels' top offensive weapons, were held to two points combined in the first half. The 'Toppers took a 31-20 lead by the break.
"We need three guys in double figures," South coach Mark Pendleton said, citing the negative rebounding margin before intermission as a key stat. "We just didn't have the effort we needed in the first half."
Wattad led Science Hill (22-5, 9-2) with 27 points, 13 in an entertaining and fast-paced third period.
Henry Ringley paced the Rebels (7-14, 4-8) with 24 points. Powell finished with 10.