The match-up could not have been more fitting, the defending champion Forrest Lady Rockets versus their longtime rival Moore County Raiderettes in a do or die game for a berth in the TSSAA State Tournament quarterfinals. The fans were out in record numbers for both schools, most arriving up to one hour prior to tip-off. By game time, the house was rocking and the teams were ready to get it on in the rubber match of the season, the prize being a trip to the Boro.
Forrest won the tip and went immediately into the low post to Gaby Bussell for the first bucket of the contest. With the Forrest crowd going crazy, the Raiderettes responded with four points from Latoyia Pincheon in the low post to take a 4-2 lead and get their humongous group of traveling fans fired up.
The teams traded baskets before Ayla Young and Bussell each nailed a three-pointer to push the Lady Rockets out to a 12-6 lead. The Raiderettes responded with a three-bomb of their own by Lacy Fanning in the waning seconds of the period and only trailed by three, 12-9 at the break.
Epic battle goes
down to the wire
The officials let the game be decided on the court as the action was close-quartered defensively and the respective coaches matched wits in the game of court chess on offense. The display was very intense as the teams dueled, using an inside-outside offensive strategy, changing tactics on seemingly every possession.
Forrest went to Bussell and Summer Waggoner down low and when Moore County cheated just a bit, Blair Foster and Young would hit from the three point line for the Lady Rockets. The Raiderettes employed a mirror approach with Latoyia Pincheon and the knifing drives of Destiny Helton earning paint points and the ever present Vanessa Pincheon and Lori Crawford bury long jumpers from deep. The score at the end of the period was one point, 34-33 in favor of the Lady Rockets and the entire house sensed an ending for future sports lore story tellers.
Summer Waggoner opened up the final period with a lay-in on a beautiful dish from Young who buried a "3" on the next possession to give Forrest a 39-33 lead. Helton scored on a left-handed scooper to bring the Raiderettes to within four and her teammate Crawford cut it to two points after a Lady Rocket turnover. Helton split the defense and laid another ball on the rim that fell to tie the game at 39 with just over five minutes to play.
The pressure was very deep and that was never typified more than the next two possessions as both teams traded air-balls to the delight of the each respective student section. A Moore County foul sent Bussell to the line where she hit one of two for a 40-39 Lady Rocket lead.
Vanessa Pincheon looked like she would get her revenge when she nailed a big-time three-ball to give her team the lead at 42-40 with just over three minutes to go and sent the baby blue side into a frenzy. Great players respond at crucial moments and the fire-eyed Ayla Young hit a three-bomb that hit nothing but the bottom of the net to see-saw the lead back to the Lady Rockets at 43-42 with 2:50 left.
The Raiderettes in-bounded the ball and went into a slow down offense that took just under 1 minute off the clock and then Amanda Daughrity made the defensive play of the ball game, and maybe of the season when she stole the ball and passed to Dakota Wesson who got fouled at the 1:02 mark. Wesson hit one of two to make it 44-22 and Moore County called timeout.
A Moore County miss gave the ball back to the Lady Rockets and the Lady Rockets were fouled again with 38.0 on the clock. The one and one was unsuccessful giving the Raiderettes another chance, but they could not convert again and had to foul Young on the rebound to stop the clock with just 8.4 left. Young was "money" as she hit both attempts to give FHS a 46-42 lead.
Incredibly, the Lady Rockets fouled Moore County on the inbounds toss and the Raiderettes held just a glimmer of hope with Vanessa Pincheon at the foul stripe for two. Pincheon's free throw caromed off the rim to the left and as the time ran out in the contest the Forrest players and their fans rejoiced in ecstasy, while the Raiderettes side fell into that state of finalization.
Asked about his team's penchant for the close tournament time type victories they have become known for, Lady Rocket's head coach Robby Reasonover stated, "It is all about surviving, whether you win by one or win by thirty. We have a history of playing tough games and it has helped us." Reasonover added, "Hopefully it will carry over to the State Tournament."
The Lady Rockets will open up their quarterfinal match on Wednesday at 2:00pm at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro versus the 34-1 and two-time state champion Gleason Lady Bulldogs. The Lady Bulldogs sport Kayla Hudson, a three year All West Tennessee selection, and a two time all state player. Hudson was a Class A Miss Basketball finalist in 2005-2006 and is one of three finalists this year.