The Lady Lions were done in by a sub-par shooting performance. They hit just 10-of-41 shots from the field, including 2-of-11 from three point range. Standout senior guard Chelsey Smith was held to just seven points on 2-of-16 shooting.
Still, Pineville kept the game close for a while. Clay led just 23-15 at the half.
“We just struggled finding offense,” said Lady Lion coach Matt Shafer. “Chelsey wasn’t hitting and when she’s not on . . . She just sparks everything.
“She will never go 0-for-7 from three-point range in her life again. She’s got a long career ahead of her.”
Early on the Lady Lions were playing a step faster than Clay. Their press was keeping the heavily favored Lady Tigers from getting into their offense and a 2-3 zone was very effective in keeping the ball from going inside.
“We went a long time, busted our tails as much as we could,” Shafer said. “Their size just ended up wearing on us by the end of the game. I’m proud as heck of my girls, they came out to battle.”
Senior forward Victoria Knuckles hit a jumper to give Pineville a 2-1 lead. Chelsey Smith banked in a runner down the lane and the Lady Lions were up 4-3 midway through the first quarter.
Clay junior Alisha Mitchell hit a 3 but Smith answered with a pair of free throws and the game was tied at six going into the final two minutes of the period.
The Lady Tigers got another basket from Mitchell, then a 3 from Mathis and a late two from Natosha Gilbert to take a 13-6 lead after one. Clay was playing without junior guard Sabrina Smith, who was attending a funeral.
Mathis hit a pair of 3s in the second quarter as the grew to 23-10.
“We were a little bit off-kilter at the start of the game, but we settled down,” said Clay County coach James Burchell.” Mathis came in and hit some shots for us. She’s a shooter and somebody who will help us when they pack it in like that.”
Pineville’s Smith sat out most of the second quarter after picking up her second foul. The Lady Lions got a late boost from junior guard Rebekah Brooks. She hit a 3-pointer and runner in the lane to make the halftime score 23-15.
“If you would have told me that we were going to hold them to 23 at half, I would have been very happy,” Shafer said. “Then we end up only scoring two points in the third quarter and nine in the fourth. We just didn’t have shots falling and their size had a lot to do with that.”
The Lady Lions were held to just a Lacey Brooks basket in the third quarter as Clay started to pull away.
Senior center Whitney Belle Jackson scored five points in the third, Mathis hit another 3-pointer and the Lady Tiger lead was 35-17 going into the fourth quarter
Pineville succeeded in containing Jackson, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, with their 2-3 zone.
“We were just trying to keep someone in front and behind Jackson,” Shafer said. “We held her to ten points and that’s what we wanted to do.”
By the fourth quarter fatigue was becoming a factor working against the Lady Lions. Clay’s Kayla Smith scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter and Mathis hit two more threes and Clay went on to win by 31.
Burchell said that playing up tempo was part of the Lady Tigers’ plan to slow down Chelsey Smith.
“For them to be a good basketball team, she’s got to score,” he said. “We actually wanted to get them tired. When we played them at home (Smith) killed us the first half. Once she got tired she didn’t bother us as much. So that was our strategy, to run her up and down the floor and get her tired. I think the big floor got to both of us and we got ourselves tired in process.”
Clay County (24-6) advances to play Corbin Friday in the 8 p.m. semifinal.
“This is gut-check time. You just have to get out there and play defense and rebound and if you can get some shots that’s even better,” Burchell said. “I like the way our defense played. Even though we didn’t click on offense, especially in the first half, I thought our defense played well.
“ That’s what we try to hang our hats on is defense, that’s what’s going to win this region for us if we win it.”
Pineville ends the season with a record of 13-18.
Shafer had some kind words for his seniors: Smith, Knuckles, Lacey Brooks, Whitney Partin, Kristen Brock and Brittney Partin.
“When they first came in Pineville basketball was pretty low, we were a stepping stone for a lot of people,” Shafer said. “Now we’re talked about, we’re playing in All ‘A’ championships, we’re playing for district championships year-in, year-out. It’s because of these six seniors. I couldn’t be more proud to coach a bunch of girls than I am right now.
“I wish Clay County the best of luck. They’ve got a great team and I know they’re going to make a great run here.”
Shafer added that the Lady Lions plan on being just as competitive next year.
“I’ve got my number two and number three scorers back in Annalee Adams and Rebekah Brooks. Stephanie Epperson came in and played real well for us in a lot of spots. We’ll have Devin Enix back off an injury, she’s one of the best players in the county,” he said. “Stacey Washington is a freshman post player that’s going to end up being a good player for us. One of my most improved players this year was Rebecca Lee-Theis. She’s hustle, grit and she can also shoot it a little bit.
“We’ve got a good core coming back. We’re going to have to try and get it from everywhere instead of just trying to get it from one person. It’s going to be a challenge but I think I’ve got a group of girls that have learned from this senior class what it means to work hard and how to handle success. I feel pretty good about what we’re going to be able to do next year.
— — —
Pineville 6 9 2 9 — 26
Clay Co. 13 10 12 22 — 57
PINEVILLE (26): Rebekah Brooks 8, Chelsey Smith 7, Victoria Knuckles 4, Whitney Partin 3, Kristen Brock 2, Lacey Brooks 2, Annalee Adams 0, Stephanie Epperson 0, Brittney Partin 0, Rebecca Lee-Theis 0, Stacey Washington 0.
CLAY COUNTY (57): Talaura Mathis 18, Kayla Smith 16, Whitney Belle Jackson 10, Alisha Mitchell 7, Natosha Gilbert 4, Morgan Chestnut 2, Victoria Jackson 0, Sara Robinson 0, Ajaycia Cotton 0.