JONESBOROUGH — The third time proved to be the charm for the third seed in the District 1-AAA girls basketball tournament.
After Science Hill swept the regular-season series against Tennessee High thanks to a pair of come-from-behind victories, the Lady Vikings owned the fourth quarter on Monday and took home the district title.
No. 3 Tennessee High outscored top-seeded Science Hill 26-8 in the fourth quarter to close out a 52-33 win. Both teams will host a first-round Region 1-AAA game Friday — the Lady Vikings welcome Sevier County to Viking Hall while the Lady Hilltoppers host Morristown East.
Meanwhile, Dobyns-Bennett and Sullivan Central will be making road trips, but the Lady Indians will be traveling with a boost of confidence gained by beating the Lady Cougars 61-55 in the consolation game.
D-B will travel to Jefferson County on Friday while Central will make the trip to play Morristown West, the top-ranked Class AAA team in the state.
Defense was the key for Tennessee High, which struggled to score for the first three quarters. Clinging to a 26-25 lead heading into the final period, however, a shakeup on the defensive end proved to be the game-changer the Lady Vikings were looking for.
“We changed it up a little bit,” Tennessee High coach Barry Wade said. “We backed off the full-court pressure and made them keep the ball in front of us.”
As the Lady Vikings set up in an aggressive three- quarter-court press, Science Hill’s turnovers started to pile up.
Keely Easterling hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the fourth to push the Lady Vikings’ lead out to 34-25.
From there, Blakeley Burleson, Ashlee Mitchell and Ice Brown started intercepting passes and igniting a flurry of fast-break layups.
Burleson, the tournament MVP, led Tennessee High with 13 points and also held Science Hill’s Haley Hensley without a point. Easterling added 11 points for the Lady Vikings (21-8).
Shy Copney scored 12 to pace the Lady Hilltoppers (24-6).
In the consolation game, Madi Phillippie scored all 12 of her points in the second half to help the Lady Cougars stay in the game.
But the Tribe’s size won out in the end as Hillary Gray, Megan Devine and Juli Osborne combined to score 45 points.
D-B coach Roger France said putting the towering trio into the lineup was a key to victory.
“I think when we had our three bigs in there, they had a hard time matching up,” he said.
Still, the Lady Cougars withstood a late 10-1 run, climbing out of a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to within a single possession with 1:30 left to play.
With the game on the line, Gray took charge by making a bank shot in the lane with 48 seconds remaining to push the Tribe’s lead to five then hit a layup 20 seconds later to put the game out of reach.
“I thought that was big at the moment,” Central coach Gary Surcey said of the shot Gray made to make it a two-possession game.
Gray led the way for D-B (20-8) with 24 points while Devine added 14 and Osborne chipped in 11.
Jacqueline Kestner dropped in 22 points to lead Central (18-12).
Although Surcey didn’t know in the moments following Monday’s game who his team would be facing Friday, he insisted he didn’t have a preference.
“It doesn’t matter who it is,” he said. “We’re on the road — we’ve got to load up the wagon and go have some fun, give them our best shot.”