After falling 44-39 to Loretto in the Region tournament semifinals last season, Cornersville struggled offensively for much of Friday's contest and trailed 22-12 at halftime before the Lady Mustangs (15-15) opened up a 26-12 advantage early in the third quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs clawed their way back into game and sliced the deficit to 35-31 early in the fourth period, but saw their comeback run out of steam after that point while Loretto outscored them 10-6 over the final 5:42 to claim the eight-point victory.
Although they made 14-of-18 free throws, Cornersville committed 19 turnovers and mustered only 11 field goals on 29 percent shooting, which included a 1-of-16 effort from three-point range.
"We did a lot of things poorly tonight, but their press hurt us a bunch and we committed too many turnovers against it. I guess we had some nerves because we took a lot of bad shots. It looked like we were desperate early and that just wreaks havoc on your confidence for the rest of the game," said CHS coach Micah Landers. "We actually had three really good days of practice coming into this game. The girls worked as hard this week as they have all season. They're great kids and there are a lot of broken hearts in that locker room."
Junior power forward Kaitlyn Rogers carried much of the offensive load for the Lady Bulldogs, as she poured in a game high 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Ashley Warren followed Rogers with six points, while Ashley Umbles added four points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Martha Jane McMasters, Brittany Umbles, and Makenzie Hopkins chipped in three, two, and one point respectively for Cornersville as well.
The Lady Mustangs shot only 33 percent (16-of-49) from the field, made just 2-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc, and missed 10-of-21 free throws, but outrebounded CHS 34-25 and held a 13-5 edge on the offensive glass.
Forward Haley Farrington paced Loretto with 13 points, and Elizabeth Hemmon and Rachel Burden notched nine and seven points respectively.
Cornersville came stumbling out of the gate and failed to score through the first 7:25 of the opening quarter while the Lady Mustangs built an early 9-0 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to 9-4 at the end of the first period thanks to a layup by Warren and two Brittany Umbles free throws, but Loretto responded with an 11-4 spurt to open up a 20-8 advantage with 2:15 left in the second quarter.
CHS narrowed the gap to 20-12 late in the second period on a Warren layup and two foul shots from Rogers, before Kayla Santiago scored on a layup to give the Lady Mustangs a 22-12 lead at the break.
After Loretto tallied the first two baskets of the third quarter to make it 26-12, the Lady Bulldogs cut the deficit to 26-17 midway through the stanza with the help of a layup by Rogers and a McMasters trey.
The Lady Mustangs notched the next four points to extend their lead to 30-17 late in the third period, but Cornersville came storming back and put together a 14-5 run on the strength of 11 points from Rogers to close the gap to 35-31 with 5:54 left in the fourth.
Loretto, though, weathered the CHS flurry and outscored the Lady Bulldogs 6-2 over the next four and a half minutes to extend their lead to 41-33.
Cornersville whittled the deficit to 43-37 on the strength of a Rogers jumper and two free throws by Warren, before Becca Brodie hit a pair of foul shots with :13 left to seal the Lady Mustangs 45-37 victory.