When asked when was the last time Hixson's girls were in sole possession of first place in their district high school basketball standings, 35-year-old Lady Wildcats coach Matthew Smith said, "Probably before I was born."
The only thing that matters to the 2013-14 Hixson girls is that they're sitting there now. It took two overtimes Tuesday playing at Central, another long-suffering program on the rise, but the Lady Wildcats prevailed 51-49 to improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in District 6-AA.
"We're in first for now, but only four games have been played," Smith said. "The good thing is that all of our district games have been on the road so far except for one. Hopefully that will help us later on. The great thing is the girls believe they can win every game. Our key is keeping the score down and playing defense. If we can keep the score in the 40s and 50s, we've got a shot at winning."
Central (5-3, 3-1) had turned a close game into a 41-31 lead, prompting a Hixson timeout with 4:39 left in regulation. The Lady Wildcats battled back with a 10-0 run, tying it when C.T. Taylor made the first of two free throws with 29.6 seconds showing.
"We're still learning how to play with a lead," said Central coach Rick May, who emphasized that clock-management is an area that needs addressing. "This is the first year we've had to learn to do that."
The first overtime ended in chaotic fashion with the Lady Pounders' Sandrea Sylman being called for a bumping foul about the time the horn went off and with Central leading 46-45. After officials discussed the situation, 1.5 seconds was put back on the clock and Taylor went to the line for two shots.
On top of the delay it took to reset the situation, Central called time out, giving Taylor a little longer to think about the free throws. She ended up missing the first but made the second, forcing another extra period.
Hixson had a three-point lead when Sylman was fouled on a drive with 17.5 seconds remaining. When she made the second free throw, it was the only free throw the Lady Pounders made in nine attempts.
Hixson's Virginia Rivers was unable to put the game out of reach from the line with 4.7 seconds left, but Central was unable to get off a shot in the remaining time.
"We didn't turn the ball over and we hit some free throws," Smith said of what his team did well down the final stretch. "And we did a good job of keeping them off the line."
The coach added that the zone defemse the Lady Wildcats play leaves some cushion and the lack of foul trouble enabled him to get by with playing six. T.T. Staten led with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Taylor totaled 12 points and six steals and McKenna Massengale's 11 points included 9-of-12 free-throw shooting. Overall they were 20-of-41 from the line.
"We're going to press and we're going to trap," May said. "But we did not move our feet well tonight. We were reaching and grabbing. It's no fault of the referees. They've got to make the calls."
Sylman sparked Central with 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Rebekah Hill added 12 points.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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.