Whitwell ultimately imposed its will in Friday's girls' quarterfinal at Grace Academy in the Region 3-A high school basketball tournament and pulled away for a 42-29 victory over the Lady Golden Eagles.
Whitwell (24-8) will take on Van Buren County in a semifinal Monday at Sale Creek. Grace ends its season 10-15.
Grace's only lead Friday was 7-5, but it had things operating at a desired slower tempo throughout most of the first half. The Lady Tigers took the lead for good when Alyssa Coppinger's pull-up jumper in the lane at 4:16 of the second quarter broke a tie at 11 and started a run of nine consecutive points to close the half.
Whitwell coach Eric Zensen said his team relies heavily on its press, which showed some early deficiencies. That, along with inefficient shooting and Grace's effort, led to the slow start.
"We needed to be jumping their ball-handlers to get the game to speed up a little bit," Zensen said. "We made an adjustment at the end of the first quarter, and the girls started picking that up. We were able to speed them up at that point."
The Lady Tigers held the Lady Golden Eagles without a field goal nearly the entire third quarter. Sierra Nunley, who had Grace's only previous points in the period on 2-for-4 free-throw shooting, finally connected on a last-second 3-pointer from 25 feet. Whitwell, up 30-16 going to the fourth, led by at least 13 the rest of the way.
"Our kids have come a long way, but they're still the better team," Grace coach Les Compton said. "I thought we did a good job against their press, but in the half-court we had some ill-advised passes and didn't handle the ball well. Give us the layups and free throws we missed and we might could've afforded a few of those turnovers. Just the opposite as well. We weren't good enough to survive both."
Coppinger's 18 points led Whitwell, and Paige Carter had 12.
Sierra Nunley scored 14 for Grace.
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.