published Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Brainerd's Lady Panthers clip Central for 6-AA crown

Central's Rebekah Hill (40) and Alexus Mitchell (24) defend Brainerd's Jakira Walker (14) at Howard's Henry W. Bowles Gymnasium on Tuesday.
Central's Rebekah Hill (40) and Alexus Mitchell (24) defend Brainerd's Jakira Walker (14) at Howard's Henry W. Bowles Gymnasium on Tuesday.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

The old proverb, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," was never more evident than Tuesday night at Howard.

Brainerd's Lady Panthers, accustomed to district-tournament success under recently retired longtime coach Carolyn Jackson, defeated top-seeded Central 56-42 in the District 6-AA girls' basketball championship game.

Hixson's girls edged Tyner 53-51 in the consolation game.

Brainerd (18-7) will host Polk County and Central (17-6) will host Sequoyah when the Region 3 tournament begins Friday. Hixson (17-9) will play at Loudon and Tyner (5-14) will visit District 5 champion McMinn Central.

Tyner beat Brainerd 57-47 in the boys' final after East Ridge defeated Central 64-57 in the consolation game.

Tyner (21-3) will host Polk County and Brainerd will host Loudon in region semifinals Saturday. East Ridge will visit Sequoyah and Central (10-8) will play at District 5 champion McMinn Central.

"I wasn't the one that started the program from the ground up. I got on the shoulders of some great coaches in Coach High and Coach Jackson," said new Lady Panthers coach Tyrus Ward, also referring to former longtime boys' coach Robert High. "They laid the groundwork here. We're just trying to keep the tradition alive."

Ward's younger sister, Jamee, scored 29 points, including five 3-point goals, and Ebony Calloway led a 32-13 edge in rebounds with 10. Eight of her 13 points -- all in the second half -- came off offensive rebounds.

"Intensity was the difference this time," Coach Ward said. "Our girls wanted it. They had beaten us twice this year.

"It was an overall team effort. Our coaches put in a good game plan, and the girls just went out and executed."

Central won the regular season but has battled its program's own shortcomings in the past. Coach Rick May said learning to protect leads in the fourth quarter has been difficult, but that wasn't the problem Tuesday. The Lady Purple Pounders' last lead Tuesday was 23-22 early in the third quarter.

"You can't compete when the other team has more possessions than you," May said. "I think we had eight defensive rebounds the whole game. That was it. Trying to beat a team three times, the percentages are not with you. Brainerd did a really good job of slowing the ballgame down for us. We like to go fast."

Sandrea Sylman with 11 points was the only Central player to score in double figures.

The boys' final was tied at 27 approaching the two-minute mark in the third quarter, but Tyner (21-3) scored the next 19 points.

"I told my guys we played probably one of our worst shooting halves all year and we were just down one at the half," Tyner coach Gerald Harris said. "We picked up the defense in the second half, and defense leads to quick buckets in transition."

The Rams scored seven of those 19 points with 7:33 remaining -- a three-point play by Alex Watkins and four technical free throws by Devonte Jones. The first technical was the Panthers' Tyree Stubbs' fifth foul, and he was ejected after getting his second one.

Tyner's scoring leaders were Jones and Kevin Cameron with 13 points each.

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.

about Kelley Smiddie...

Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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