Lady Rockets gut out first round district tournament win

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Ally Blanton (14), who led all scorers in the game with 21 points, drives to the hoop for a three-point play in the first half.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

Adversity keeps piling up for the Forrest Lady Rockets, who came out shorthanded versus Murfreesboro Central Magnet School in Monday night’s opening round District 12-AA Tournament tilt at Chapel Hill.

Forrest lost its leading scorer Carissa Curtis for the season when she tore her ACL in practice last week and the flu bug kept several other players out of Monday’s game, including a key cog in Laura Mealer.

“Carissa is a great kid, I hate it for anybody,” Forrest coach Jeremy Jean said. “This is what she does, she is a basketball player and it’s going to set her back for a while, but she has the mindset to get back as soon as possible.”

Forrest’s Anna Blanton runs out before the opening game of the District 12-AA Tournament versus Murfreesboro Central Magnet Monday night at Chapel Hill.

“We are still trying to figure out how to play without her, but we survived and advanced and we just have to keep getting healthy quicker.”

With their backs against the wall, Forrest came through as they eked out a tough 37-36 win over the determined Lady Tigers.

“Central Magnet did not want to go home, the Anderson sisters, both seniors were not going to be denied tonight,” Jean said. “But luckily, we had Ally and Anna, who didn’t want to go home either, they were all over the place.”

The Blanton twins, Ally and Anna stepped up to the challenge as they combined for 31 out of the 37 points in the game for the Lady Rockets.

“It was tough, we have a lot of people out,” Ally Blanton said. “I knew I had to step up with Carissa our leading scorer out and Laura was big contributor on offense, so we all knew we had to step up and we did good as a team together.”

Ally Blanton had 21 points to lead all scorers in the contest and in the first half, she put the Lady Rockets on her back with 12 points, including a three-point play the old-fashioned way, four other free throws on drives to the rack, a swipe and score, and a long bomb.

The only other basket scored by Forrest in the first half came on a Ryann Lewis bucket in the paint to break a 6-0 opening game run by the Lady Tigers.

Forrest took a 14-13 lead to the second half and the third quarter was a battle as both teams kept seizing the lead after the other one went ahead.

The game was tied three times and the lead exchanged hands six times in the period.

Anna Blanton scored six points in the third period, including a late long ball, but Natalie Anderson rained home a 3-pointer to tie the game at 24-24, entering the fourth quarter.

The senior Anderson sisters played a tremendous game with Natalie scoring nine points and Mary Kate leading the Lady Cats in the scoring column with 13 points.

In the fourth quarter, Murfreesboro Central Magnet (MCM) did not make a two-point shot, but they made up for it with four 3-pointers.

MCM took a 30-26 lead early in the final stanza before Forrest stormed back, eventually tying the game on an Anna Blanton drive to the dish.

After a Lady Tigers’ miscue, Ally Blanton drained a 3-pointer and after a tie-up on the floor was awarded to Forrest, Anna Blanton scored on a drive to the hoop, giving Chapel Hill a 35-30 lead.

Not to be outdone, Natalie and Mary Kate Anderson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to seesaw the lead back to Murfreesboro Central Magnet at 36-35 with two and a half minutes remaining in the game.

Ally Blanton came up with a rebound and put-back on a fight under the basket to make it 37-36.

After Forrest missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the free throw line with 1:49 left in the game, incredibly the Lady Tigers had the ball the rest of the way.

MCM pulled down several offensives rebounds down the stretch, but the Forrest defense held firm in the post and did allow a score.

The Lady Tigers had one last chance to win the game when they won a tie-up on the floor with four seconds left and called timeout to set up a play underneath their own basket.

After the stoppage, a pass inside was swiped by Anna Blanton, sealing the win and a Region 6-AA Tournament berth for Forrest.

“We wanted this so bad in the locker room before the game, we said we are not losing,” Ally Blanton said. “We said we are going to win this, get everyone healthy and come into the district strong and region strong because our goal is state, it has been from the get-go. We have had a little rocky season, but we are finally getting back to playing like we used to.”

The Lady Rockets (18-10) take on top-seeded Nolensville (20-6) in the semifinals on Valentine’s Day night at 6 p.m. at Chapel Hill.

“We have to play good defense because we know they are fast and we have to try to get steals and stuff and play smart, but Laura will be back and that will help us out down low,” Anna Blanton said. “Their two guards (Grace Baird and Parker Leftwich) are really good and they have stepped up since Zoe (Piller) went down, so they are getting more involved in the game. If we can lock them down we will be fine.”

“We are 9-2 on our home court, so that is good.”

Marshall County (21-6) plays Community (18-8) in the other semifinal at 7:30 p.m.

“If we can compete like we did tonight, we have a chance to win,” Jean said. “We battled for loose balls, we rebounded the ball, and we just did the things we needed to win.”

MCM 8 5 11 12-36

FHS 5 9 10 13-37

Murfreesboro Central Magnet (36): Molly Kate Anderson 13, Natalie Anderson 9, Kathryn Hays 7, Kaitlin Polly 5, Sydney Copeland 2.

3-Point Goals (7): Molly Kate Anderson 3, Natalie Anderson 3, Polly.

Free Throws (1-for-3): Hays 1-for-2, Natalie Anderson 0-for-2.

Forrest (37): Ally Blanton 21, Anna Blanton 10, Ryann Lewis 2, Shea Lewis 2, Sydney Hill 2.

3-Point Goals (3): Ally Blanton 2, Anna Blanton.

Free Throws (8-for-13): Ally Blanton 5-for-8, Sydney Hill 2-for-4, Anna Blanton 1-for-1.

Halftime Score: Forrest 14, Murfreesboro Central Magnet 13.