Brainerd guard Jamee Ward did not have one of her best shooting nights of the basketball season Friday when the Lady Panthers hosted Polk County in a TSSAA girls' Region 3-AA quarterfinal. And still she only needed eight points from her teammates for Brainerd to win.
She got substantially more than that to go with her 26 points, and Brainerd defeated the Wildkittens 45-33.
The Lady Panthers (19-7) advance to Monday's semifinals at East Ridge, where they will take on Loudon, which edged Hixson 55-53.
Ward, Brainerd's leading scorer for the season, did not register her first points until make a 3-point shot from the right wing with less than two minutes to play in the first quarter. However, she scored eight points in a 15-0 run that left the score 25-8.
All four of her 3-point goals came in the first half, and she added a couple of free-throw-line jumpers midway of the third quarter. But four of her field goals came on layups -- three after she made steals.
"We had a long week of school," said her Brainerd coach and brother, Tyrus Ward. "Today was a long day, starting at 7 o'clock in the morning. We've definitely got to do a better job of getting her legs back up under her for the next game.
"When you keep winning, the games get tougher."
Ward's best scoring support came from Jumeka Brown with nine points. Neisha Price added seven for the Lady Panthers, who twice led by 22 points in the late stages of the third quarter.
"We wanted to play with great intensity, pressure the ball and get the game as fast-paced as possible early on," Coach Ward said. "It seemed to have worked well. We had a 20-point lead. I felt we got a little sluggish at the end."
Polk County coach Johnny Hayes said his team was aware coming in that Jamee Ward was a good player.
"Definitely she showed she was," Hayes said. "Our goal was to try and limit her, but they had some other girls step up and make shots that we didn't expect."
Isabella Liner, one of two Polk County seniors along with Felecia Johnson, led her team with 10 points. Heather McLain had nine and Mikayla McClary scored eight for the Wildkittens, who outscored Brainerd 13-5 in the fourth quarter.
"We dug that hole in the first half," Hayes said. "If we could've done something in the third quarter, it might've been feasible, but by the fourth it was too late."
Polk County ends its season 10-18.
"Some young girls coming back should progress with the playing time they got this season," Hayes said.
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.