NEWPORT — The end of the beginning turned out to be the beginning of the end for Volunteer’s girls basketball team on Friday night.
The Lady Falcons jumped out to a 14-9 lead and were in the process of running the final seconds off the clock late in the first quarter when Cocke County stole the basketball. The steal led to a buzzer-beating layup by Mika Wester that brought the raucous home crowd to its feet.
As it turned out, that basket was the beginning of a 17-0 run that propelled the Lady Red to a 58-29 victory in the quarterfinals of the Region 1-AAA tournament.
Cocke County advanced to play Tennessee High in the regional semifinals. The loss ended Volunteer’s season.
The bottom may have fallen out for the Lady Falcons, but Volunteer coach Jerry Myers said Friday’s game didn’t do anything to change his opinion of his team.
“Our girls have been fearless all year. They don’t always play well, but they’re never afraid of anybody,” Myers said. “We just did not shoot the ball well. I don’t want to take anything away from Cocke County — they played well. But we didn’t.”
Indeed, the Lady Falcons came out of the gates unfazed despite a large, pro-Red crowd and the aggressive full-court press Cocke County came out in. Volunteer patiently found openings in the defense and controlled the game until the end of the first period.
That’s when all of Volunteer’s momentum came screeching to a halt.
Once the second quarter started, the Lady Red couldn’t miss. They hit five straight shots to open the period and sprinted to a 26-14 advantage.
Cocke County also dropped back into a half-court defense that knocked Volunteer off balance. The Lady Falcons opened the second quarter by missing seven straight shots and committing four turnovers in their first 10 possessions.
“They had scouted our press good and made us pay for pressing,” Cocke County coach Jeremy Byrd said. “The press was really taking us out of what our strength is, and that is half-court defense. We settled in and did a really good job.”
That half-court defense also allowed Cocke County to limit Volunteer’s second-chance opportunities. Because the Lady Falcons weren’t shooting well in the first place, the lack of putback layups made a comeback bid impossible to put together.
“That has been what I’ve preached to them all season — limit their chances,” Byrd said. “They’ve really bought in and done a good job of boxing out.”
Kaitlin Martin led Cocke County (21-9) with 15 points. Jordan Ray added 13 and Wester scored 11.
Lindsey Overbey led Volunteer (18-16) with eight points and Ashley Jarvis added seven.
Despite the result, Myers saw something in his team’s response to the defeat that left him hopeful moving forward.
“It hurt them to lose, and I’m more proud of them for that than anything,” he said. “Hopefully the ones that are coming back, it will carry over and they’ll feel that pain from now until this time next year.”