CHURCH HILL — Daniel Boone arrived in Church Hill last Tuesday as a team with a shaky offensive attack and a habit of losing close basketball games.
Four wins later, the Lady Trailblazers emerged Saturday night as a hard-nosed defensive team with plenty of momentum and a new piece of hardware for the trophy case.
Boone held Morristown East’s high-scoring duo of Leah Leeper and Ashton Swaggerty to a combined 10 points and beat the Lady Hurricanes 51-38 in the championship game of the Pizza Plus/Dairy Cup/Coca-Cola Volunteer Girls Classic.
The Lady Trailblazers jumped ahead 12-4 and led the rest of the way, weathering a Morristown East run early in the fourth quarter to capture the title.
“We knew they were super athletic and super physical,” Boone coach Tim Campbell said. “I was glad to see that our kids responded well in the first half.”
The championship caps off a string of four straight games played in Church Hill in which Boone used a physical defensive effort to knock off Volunteer, Gate City, Elizabethton and Morristown East.
After all of the success the Lady Trailblazers have had in Church Hill in recent years, Campbell was considering a stop at the paint store on his way back to Gray.
“Maybe we need to put some blue in our gym,” he said with a laugh.
“We’re about 21-2 in this gym over the last 10 years.”
One of the keys to the game was the ability of Holly Nickels to lock down Leeper, who came into the game averaging a double-double for the tournament.
Nickels shadowed Leeper for just about the whole game and held her to five points.
“Coach tells us every day who we’re going to be guarding,” Nickels said. “I was excited — I’m not scared to guard anybody.”
On the offensive end, Nickels and tournament MVP Megan Caldwell scored 15 points each to keep Boone in the driver’s seat for the entire contest.
Caldwell scored eight of her points in the first quarter to spark the quick start.
“We’ve lost a lot of games we shouldn’t have,” Caldwell said. “Coming into this tournament, we wanted to come together as a team and I think we did that.”
Boone led by 17 points after three quarters, but the Lady Hurricanes had one more run left in them.
East scored the first 11 points of the final quarter before Michelle Stafford was fouled by Kayla Orrick, who also picked up a technical foul.
Stafford hit three of the four ensuing foul shots and Boone outscored East 9-2 the rest of the way.
Campbell said he was happy to see his team get off to such a quick start after watching previous teams come out of the blocks slowly in tournament games.
“Our kids have been in this situation before many times in district tournaments,” he said. “So this is big — we’re practicing better and we’re playing better.”
Nickels and Kaitlin Harmon joined Caldwell on the all-tournament team. Leeper and Megan Blaylock represented East on the squad.
Orrick led East (7-3) with 10 points and six rebounds, while Michelle Stafford added eight points and seven rebounds for Boone (9-3).
Earlier, Elizabethton captured third place by beating a hard-charging Volunteer squad 38-34.
The Lady Falcons trailed by 10 points heading into the fourth period but put together a run that brought them within four points of the Lady Cyclones (9-5) late in the game.
After scoring four points and grabbing just six rebounds entering the fourth quarter, Elizabethton’s Mariah Pietrowski came alive.
Pietrowski scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the final period to help seal the win.
The 6-foot-1 center finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds, securing a spot on the all-tournament team along with Volunteer’s Chanoa Bledsoe.
Bledsoe led the Lady Falcons (2-7) with eight points while Laiken Gilliam, playing her first game of the season after an offseason knee injury, added 7.
Natalie Pickwell and Samantha Williams represented Sullivan South on the all-tournament squad, which was rounded out by Crockett’s Lauren Murr.