Sometimes the bright lights of the big stage can be blinding. The Cornersville Lady Bulldogs first trip to the TSSAA State Basketball Tournament proved to be a brief one, as they dropped a 49-40 decision to a scrappy Hampton squad in the first round Wednesday afternoon at MTSU's Murphy Center.
After playing some of their best basketball of the season the previous week in the Region 6-A tournament, the Lady Bulldogs seemed tight at the beginning of Wednesday's contest and were out of synch for much of the game. Hampton built a 22-15 lead in the first half, before opening up an 18-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter. Cornersville made a late run to cut the deficit to single digits, but it proved to be too little too late.
Following the loss, the Lady Bulldogs admitted to being anxious when they first stepped onto the court at the Murphy Center.
"It was a mixture of things. I know I was nervous. It took us a while to get going. We never seemed to get into a rhythm," said CHS junior guard Sara Nelms.
"It hit me when I first walked out there, but I eventually settled down as the game went on," concurred Lady Bulldog center Sarah King.
Cornersville head coach Micah Landers, however, didn't let the disappointing loss diminish the achievements of his team's landmark season.
"For years I've been talking about building up the program. Former players have called me and told me how proud they are of this team. These girls are a special group and hopefully in a few years they'll look back and see how they left their imprint on the program," said Landers.
The Lady Bulldogs seemed to have a lid on their basket much of the afternoon and shot just 29 percent from the floor overall (13-45) despite hitting five of their final nine field goal attempts. Cornersville also hit only 1-of-8 three-point attempts and committed 18 turnovers.
Nelms led the Lady Bulldogs with 18 points, four assists, and four steals, while Haley Fagan and King tallied nine points apiece with Fagan notching six rebounds and four steals. Makenzie Hopkins also had four points for Cornersville.
Hampton, meanwhile, shot a pedestrian 40 percent from the field (17-43), but outfought CHS for a number of loose balls and grabbed 13 offensive boards, while out rebounding the Lady Bulldogs 38-28 overall.
"I thought we were a better rebounding team than we showed today. We had out rebounded our last six or seven opponents, but Hampton finished with 10 more than us. Plus the turnovers really hurt us. Hampton's scrappiness maybe stunned us a little bit," said Landers.
Senior shooting guard Mikki Oliver paced Hampton with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while reserve center Megan Gugger added 10 points. Chelsey Weddle and Josie McKinney had nine and six points respectively for Hampton as well.
After Hampton jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, the Lady Bulldogs fought back to tie the game at 8-8 late in the first quarter on a jumper by Fagan, a King layup, and two free throws by Nelms.
Cornersville's offense, however, went stagnant after that point and Hampton outscored CHS 12-2 over the next seven and a half minutes to claim a 20-10 advantage.
The Lady Bulldogs narrowed the gap to 22-15 at the break thanks to a King three-point play and an offensive put back by Fagan, before Nelms hit a driving layup at the start of the third quarter to make it 22-17.
Unfortunately, CHS failed to score again over the next four and a half minutes while Hampton went on a 7-0 run to push their lead to 29-17.
Cornersville cut the deficit to 31-22 at the end of the third thanks to three free throws and jumper by Nelms, but Hampton hit the Lady Bulldogs with a 14-5 spurt to forge a 45-27 advantage with 3:25 left in the fourth.
CHS tried to mount a last ditch rally attempt and put together a 13-2 run behind seven points from Nelms and four points from Hopkins to close the gap to 47-40 with 46.9 seconds.
Cornersville though was unable to pull any closer, as they came up empty on their final three possessions while Weddle tacked on two foul shots for the 49-40 final.