Lady Tigers knock off Whitley Co. 52-45

Jay Compton jcompton@civitasmedia.com

March 6, 2014

CORBIN — James Burchell’s Clay County Lady Tigers showed they’re still a force to be reckoned with in the 13th Region. A stifling defensive effort led Clay to a surprising 52-45 win over Whitley County in the first round of the regional tournament Wednesday night.

“You just never know when it comes to a tournament. We felt like our kids were prepared and they were fired up and ready to go,” Burchell said. “Our kids thought they could win and that’s half the battle.”

They held Whitley County to 31-percent shooting (16-of-51) for the game, including a one for eight stretch from the final minute of the third quarter until 2:30 was left in the game. The Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Colonels 15-2 during that span to turn a two-point lead into 45-30 advantage and the game was decided.

Junior guard Ajaycia Cotton scored 17 points and handed out seven assists to lead Clay County and was named the player of the game. The Lady Tigers also got nine points and 12 rebounds from senior forward Sara Robinson, eight and 12 from junior center Courtney Woods and nine points each from sophomore Kelli Roberts and seventh-grader Shelby Phillips.

Whitley County senior guard Maria Johnson hit all seven of her 3-point attempts and finished with 23 points on eight of ten shooting overall, but she was the only Lady Colonel to crack double-figures. Standout senior Brandi Smith was held to eight points on two of twelve shooting, senior center Kandace Craig battled foul trouble most of the game and finished with seven points and seven rebounds.

“We had a defensive game plan and everything worked, other than the Johnson girl. She was just unconscious,” Burchell said. “But we did a good job on Smith, which we knew we had to do. And we kept them from driving it to the rim, which we knew we had to do.”

“We didn’t play very well tonight offensively. We had several good looks, we just couldn’t get them to go down,” Whitley County coach Donnie Jones said. “It was a physical game and we were battling foul trouble most of the night. It didn’t seem like they were calling much the other way — I’m not making excuses, but we didn’t handle that very well.”

The Lady Colonels got off to a pretty good start with Smith hitting a 3-pointer and later adding a free throw as they jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Two 3s from Johnson extended that lead to 12-5 before Cotton beat the first quarter buzzer with a 3 to bring the Lady Tigers within 12-8.

Threes from Johnson and eighth-grader Abbey Estes put Whitley up 18-12 by the midway point of the second quarter, but the Lady Colonels wouldn’t score the rest of the half. Phillips hit a 3, Robinson scored after grabbing an offensive rebound and Cotton found Roberts open for 3 just before halftime to give the Lady Tigers a 20-18 lead.

Roberts hit another 3 early in the third quarter and Clay maintained a lead between two and five points for most of the period.

Johnson’s basket at the 1:20 mark brought Whitley County within 30-28.Smith came up with a steal, but the Lady Colonels weren’t able to convert an open layup to tie the game. Whitley missed several layups and hit just four of 14 shots in the period.

“I think we had enough easy shots to be in the game or even win the game. We were just too uptight or too emotional and that’s my fault. I couldn’t get them to calm down and relax enough to hit those easy shots,” Jones said.

Cotton, who had to leave the game briefly after getting hip-checked into the media table earlier in the quarter, keyed a 7-0 run that put the Lady Tigers in control.

Cotton shook her defender to get free for a jumper with 30 seconds to go in the third and then drew the defense and found Phillips wide open in the corner for buzzer-beating 3 to make it 35-28. Cotton opened the fourth quarter with runner to put the Lady Tigers up by nine.

“We had to have her. She did a great job, not only defensively but penetrating and getting into the paint and finding people open. She just played a super ballgame for us,” Burchell said of his junior point guard. “We had a buzzer-beater and I had a seventh-grader hit two or three big shots. (Phillips) hadn’t played but just a few minutes until late in the season, but she came in and hit some huge shots for us.”

Craig scored inside for Whitley with 7:25 to play, but five minutes of game clock would expire before the Lady Colonels scored again.

Robinson keyed an 8-0 run that put the game out of reach. Woods started it by hitting two free throws, Robinson rebounded a Whitley miss and then scored inside off a feed from Cotton. Robinson blocked the next Lady Colonel shot and Cotton got free in the lane for a nine-foot jumper. Robinson then came up with a steal and Lady Tigers spread the floor to run down the clock, she completed the possession with a touch pass to Woods under the basket for a layup and it was 45-30 with 3:48 to play.

“She’s our only senior and we count on her for stability and to keep everybody calm. She’s a great kid and I’m just tickled to death for her that she gets to play another game,” Burchell said.

Johnson hit three 3-pointers over the final 2:21, but Whitley wasn’t able to get closer than eight points until her 3 in the final seconds set the final at 52-45.

Whitley County ends the season with a record of 24-8. It was the final game for seniors Smith, Johnson and Craig.

“It’s a good group of kids. I’m proud of them. The three seniors we’re losing are probably three of the best to ever come through Whitley County,” Jones said. “I wish I could have figured out a way to go on because I thought we had a real chance this year.”

Clay County (21-10) advances to play Harlan (19-12) in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal. The Lady Dragons held on for a 53-51 win over Barbourville in Wednesday’s other first round game. Harlan beat Clay 58-56 in the only meeting between the teams back on Dec. 9.

“It will be a good game. They’re well-coached and they’ve got some tremendous shooters. We know we’ll have our hands full,” Burchell said. “When we played earlier I think they beat us by two and I think Cotton only played maybe ten minutes in that game. Like I said, you never know. It’s who is going to make shots, who’s going to not turn the ball over, who’s going to hit free throws… We’re just glad to be advancing and to get to play another game.”

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Brandi Smith 2-12 3-4 8, Maria Johnson 8-10 0-0 23, Kandace Craig 3-6 1-1 7, Taylor Dingess 1-10 0-0 2, Hallie Jones 0-5 0-0 0, Savanna Sizemore 1-4 0-1 2, Abbey Estes 1-4 0-0 3, Taryn Hickey 0-0 0-0 0, Seirra Feltner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-51 4-6 45.


Ajaycia Cotton 6-12 4-10 17, Kelli Roberts 3-6 1-2 9, Courtney Woods 2-5 4-9 8, Sara Robinson 3-8 3-4 9, Kashia Jackson 0-0 0-2 0, Shelby Phillips 3-4 0-0 9, Kimberlyn Mills 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-35 12-27 52.

Whitley County 12 6 10 17 45
Clay County 8 12 15 17 52
3-point goals: Whitley 9-24 (Johnson 7-7, Smith 1-8, Estes 1-4, Jones 0-3, Dingess 0-2), Clay 6-12 (Phillips 3-4, Roberts 2-4, Cotton 1-4). Rebounds: Whitley 22 (Craig 7, Johnson 6), Clay 34 (Robinson 12, Woods 12). Assists: Whitley 9 (Smith 3, Jones 2, Dingess 2), Clay 8 (Cotton 7). Turnovers: Whitley 6, Clay 14. Total fouls: Whitley 20, Clay 6. Fouled out: Whitley (Craig, Jones, Dingess) Clay: none.