Down 15 points midway through the third quarter, the Lady Cougars turned on their defense and snagged a 54-52 win at the buzzer against upset-minded Elizabethton, remaining perfect atop the Three Rivers Conference.
Central won it on a followup bucket by Jaelyn West.
A 5-foot-10 sophomore on a team full of seniors, West was a bit starstruck afterward while trying to explain what went down when she grabbed Macy McClellan’s errant 3-point jumper and banked it home from close range.
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“I just knew I had to get the rebound,” said West, who finished with 10 huge points. “There was maybe three seconds left when I got a hold of it. I just knew I had to get that rebound and score it, to win the game.”
Central, down by three at halftime, had trailed Elizabethton and hot-shooting Morgan Headrick 39-24 midway through the third quarter before turning it around behind an energized perimeter defense.
With McClellan and Peyton Sams getting after people, the Lady Cougars forced five turnovers in four minutes of play, closing to within 44-38 by the end of the third.
“We had way too many turnovers to end the third quarter,” said Elizabethton coach Lucas Andrews. “We didn’t close the door when we could have. You can’t let a good team like Central stay in the game, and we allowed that.”
Now smelling blood, Central (21-2, 8-0) stormed all the way back.
West scored twice, including a bold 3-point jumper, and Katie Horne drained a rainbow 3-pointer, helping Central get to within 49-48 midway through the fourth.
Abbey Crawford scored inside on a nice feed from Sams, putting Central up 52-50 with 1:42 to play, before two free throws by Elizabethton’s Kaylen Shell tied the game with 44 seconds on the clock.
Central held for the last shot, with West providing the dagger.
“I’m just super proud of the girls, all of them,” said third-year Lady Cougars coach Kristi Walling. “I love them. I love ’em all.
“That’s the thing with these kids. They don’t quit on me. Even when we were down 15, I didn’t allow thoughts of losing enter my head.”
And that final play came off just as Walling had diagrammed, right?
“We’ll pretend I drew it up like that,” she said, smiling. “We’d been on (West) about rebounding and she really came up with a huge one there for us.”
Crawford finished with 14 points.
Elizabethton (12-9, 4-3) was led by the 22-point game of the talented Headrick, a 6-foot weapon inside and out who made three 3-pointers.
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Elizabethton ran out to a 9-0 lead at the Dickie Warren Dome and never trailed, claiming a methodical 59-50 win over Sullivan Central.
The Cyclones (7-12, 5-2) remained near the top of the Three Rivers tote board after easing out to leads of 12-8 after one quarter and 24-17 by halftime.
Donta Earnest scored 15 points to pace the Cyclones. William Willocks and Jordan Haynes had 11 apiece.
Central (7-17, 2-6) was led by the 17 points of Preston Sams and the 15 of Joltin Harrison, a freshman who made three 3-point jumpers.