WHITWELL, Tenn. — Whitwell and Sale Creek knew the District 6-A high school girls' basketball game Tuesday at Whitwell was a considerable one in the chase to be top-seeded in the district tournament. By halftime, the only thing considerable was the Lady Tigers' lead.
Sparked by its running, jumping, trapping, swarming defense, Whitwell built a 20-point lead by the break and defeated the Lady Panthers 56-39.
Whitwell (20-4, 10-0) has clinched at least a tie for the district regular-season championship. More importantly, it locked up the tournament's No. 1 seeding.
"That was our goal from the get-go," Whitwell coach Eric Zensen said. "It's something we knew was there coming into tonight as well. We came out and played hard from the start. I felt like the girls were pretty focused at the beginning of the game. Still, there's a long way to go for us."
Sale Creek (18-3) entered the game 8-1 in the district -- the loss 45-36 to Whitwell at Sale Creek on Dec. 1. Although the Lady Panthers scored a few more points this time, coach Debbie Hill wasn't convinced they had any more offensive success.
"They've got the best defensive team around," Hill said of the Lady Tigers. "They play hard. They stay focused. Defense is what's going to win them a lot of ballgames."
The Lady Panthers never led, and the only tie was at 5. Starting with a run of nine consecutive points, Whitwell outscored them 29-9 the rest of the first half.
"They get you running with them and playing that hectic pace," Hill said. "Before you know it, they've got you by 20."
The Lady Tigers' defense particularly escalated after Sale Creek's Krissy Hodge scored inside with 7:11 to go in the second quarter to make it 16-9. All the Lady Panthers got the rest of the half was two baskets in the post area and a free throw while Whitwell was scoring 18 points.
"I think we just continued to work hard," Zensen said. "I think we just stuck with what we were doing. I thought tonight we did a good job finishing finishing on the offensive end, especially in the first half."
He used 10 players, making five-for-five substitutions more than once. Point guard Halle Ware is the only Whitwell player averaging in double figures on the season, and with 19 she was the only Lady Tiger scoring in double figures Tuesday. Paige Carter contributed nine points and Sarah Green and Haley Atterton chipped in with seven each.
Meanwhile, Sale Creek played a total of seven players, so it didn't help that three of them had two fouls each by the 1:25 mark of the first quarter.
"A lot of it is they're so quick, they get us out of position," Hill said. "That's where we get a lot of fouls, by being out of position on defense and out of position on the rebound."
Hodge led Sale Creek with 18 points. Erin Hill added nine -- all in the second half.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.