CHURCH HILL — If you’re only going to hit one shot all game, you’d better make it a big one.
Michelle Stafford did just that on Friday night, scoring her first basket of the game as time expired to give Daniel Boone a 44-43 win over Elizabethton in the Dairy Cup/Pizza Plus Volunteer Girls Classic.
The Lady Trailblazers will play Morristown East, which beat Volunteer 56-33 in the other semifinal, in the championship game tonight at 8:30.
“After the game, she told me, ‘Coach, that was the only layup I hit all night,’” Boone coach Tim Campbell said. “I told her she picked a good time to do it.”
With Daniel Boone trailing by one point and time running out, Holly Nickels missed a 3-pointer off the back rim. As Boone’s Megan Caldwell and Elizabethton’s Mariah Pietrowski began to fall toward the floor while fighting for control of the rebound, Stafford stood under the goal with her hands ready.
Caldwell ended up with the ball, flipped it to Stafford and the junior forward knocked down the game-winning layup.
“It feels great,” Stafford said. “That’s my first game-winning shot ever.”
The shot completed a methodical comeback that began when the Lady Trailblazers fell behind by 10 points in the second period.
Boone used an 11-2 run before halftime to get back into the game and held the Lady Cyclones to three points in the third period to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth.
The Lady Trailblazers got back into the contest by attacking the paint and playing catch-up from the foul line. Boone went to the stripe 24 times and made more foul shots (16) than Elizabethton attempted (12).
Campbell said the plan on offense was to attack the middle even though Pietrowski, one of the area’s premier shot blockers, was patrolling the paint.
“The kids did take it at her,” he said. “We respect her, but our game is to attack.”
After the teams swapped the lead for most of the fourth quarter, the Lady Trailblazers grabbed a one-point lead with 43 seconds left following a 3-point play from Nickels.
Pietrowski hit a pair of free throws 16 seconds later to put Elizabethton ahead 43-42 and set up the wild final possession that led to Stafford’s layup.
After losing twice to Elizabethton last year, Campbell was happy with his team’s performance.
“We wanted to come down here and compete,” he said. “We knew they were a good team.”
Nickels led the way for Boone (9-3) with 15 points while Caldwell added 12. Stafford went 7-of-8 from the line to score nine points despite only hitting one field goal.
Kelli Culler led Elizabethton (8-5) with 19 points on the strength of five 3-pointers, while Pietrowski added 11.
It may sound like an episode of the Weather Channel’s “Storm Stories,” but the Lady Trailblazers are now gearing up to face the Hurricanes a day after surviving the Cyclones.
Morristown East used a run late in the second quarter to push its lead to double figures and another surge in the second half to push the game out of reach on its way to a 56-33 win over Volunteer.
Leah Leeper came up huge again for the Lady Hurricanes, recording her second straight double-double with a 19 point, 12 rebound performance against the Lady Falcons.
Ashton Swaggerty added 12 points and eight boards for East (7-2) while Kayla Orrick chipped in 10.
Chanoa Bledsoe scored 15 points to pace Volunteer (2-7), which kept the game close until the final moments.
“We didn’t really have a good offensive night,” Volunteer coach Dennis Anderson said. “But the final score wasn’t an indication of how close we played them — I’m very proud of the way we played.”
Volunteer will face Elizabethton tonight at 7 for third place.