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COLUMBIA — As the clock wound down, the Tullahoma fans who made the trek to Columbia Central High School’s Hardy Lloyd Gymnasium were on their feet cheering for the Lady Wildcats. When the game was over, rather than sprint out of the lockerroom as usual, the Tullahoma High School boys basketball players walked toward the court and offered their congratulations to the THS girls team.
It was well deserved.
The Tullahoma Lady Wildcats beat Columbia Central 59-57 Friday night. The win marked the first District 8-AAA victory for Tullahoma’s girls since the Lady Cats beat Coffee County Central 43-35 on Dec. 5, 2008. That means none of the current cast of Lady Cats had won a district game before Friday night.
“It felt good because we won a district game,” said freshman Kentoria Alexander, who was a sixth-grader the last time it happened. “Coach (Dale Alsup) said he was proud of us, because we won a district game and we wanted to do that. It’s pretty tough.”
The win, coupled with a victory by the Tullahoma boys team, also marked the first time that both the THS girls and boys teams won district games on the same night since the 2002-03 season. They did it twice that season, as they both beat Lincoln County on Jan. 7, 2003 and they both beat Franklin County on Feb. 7 of the same year.
Since that win on Feb. 7, 2003, the Lady Wildcats had just one win against a district foe.
A streak of 39 straight district losses came to a halt thanks to a quick start by Tullahoma (5-16 overall, 1-5 District 8-AAA) and a gritty performance by its freshman point guard. The Lady Cats led by as many as 16 points midway through the third period and held a 15-point lead, 46-31, with 6:05 left in the game.
But Columbia (9-9, 2-4) stormed back in the fourth quarter. The Lady Lions forced three Tullahoma turnovers in the first 50 seconds of the fourth period. The hosts scored six straight points, cut the lead to 10 and made sure that the Lady Cats wouldn’t leave with an easy victory.
Tullahoma committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, six of which led to Columbia points.
By the end of the period Columbia had racked up a balky 32 points in an eight-minute stretch. That included a meaningless 3-pointer by Kanytra Bumpas at the buzzer that may have narrowed the margin, but did little to change the outcome.
Try as they may, Columbia was never able to wrestle the lead away from Tullahoma. And they had chances. Chesnia Lee hit a 3-pointer and was fouled with 49 seconds remaining to draw the Lions to within a point, but she missed the free throw that would have tied the game.
The Lions rebounded the missed free throw, but still couldn’t take advantage.
Then Alexander went to the free throw line for THS. Showing poise beyond that of a freshman, she calmly sank both sides of a one-plus-one to give Tullahoma a 55-52 lead.
Columbia had one last gasp with 10 seconds remaining.
Trailing by five, Lee was fouled by Tullahoma’s Deja Morris, who also drew a technical foul on the play, setting up what could have potentially been a seven-point trip for Columbia. Lee hit the first two free throws, but missed the next two.
With the Lady Cats still ahead by three, Columbia had possession, but sophomore Katie Lett stepped in front of the pass to steal the ball. Lett missed her lay-up, but Alexander was there to clean it up. She rebounded the ball, was fouled and promptly made two more free throws to ice the game.
“I was nervous, but excited,” said Alexander, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “I was just thinking I (need) to make these free throws because we were only up by three. I just had to concentrate and make foul shots.”
The win was a remarkable recovery for a team that had been shelled in its last two outings. Meanwhile, the Lady Lions were coming off of a 69-62 win over Lincoln County.
Senior Mylisha Edwards added 13 points for Tullahoma, while Makayla Timmons paced Columbia with 17.
THS plays at LaVergne on Tuesday. Girls tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.
Tullahoma 13 11 17 18 – 59
Columbia 4 7 14 32 – 57
Tullahoma—Kentoria Alexander 18, Kalyah Bland 7, Mylisha Edwards 13, Taylor Honea 7, Erin Layne 2, Katie Lett 5, Deja Morris 5, Hope Woodard 3.
Columbia—Makayla Timmons 17, Akera Hopkins 4, Cokie Young 2, Kanytra Bumpas 10, Kanyse Wyatt 2, Maya Horner 9, Fanise Cannon 5, Chesnia Lee 8.
3-point goals—Tullahoma 6 (Alexander 3, Honea, Lett, Woodard); Columbia 8 (Timmons 3, Lee 2, Horner 2, Bumpas).
By ROBERT HOLMAN, Sports Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)