NASHVILLE — Moore County High School girls basketball coach Bruce Slatton admitted at the start of the season that he had no idea what to expect from his young — check that … extremely young — team. He dared not speculate about how many wins his team, laden with 8th-graders, would manage.
The Raiderettes returned only four players from last year’s sub-state team, and early on they were dealt a tough blow when junior Savannah Williams went down with an injury.
Perhaps they’d be lucky to win five games. Maybe a dozen victories was setting the bar a bit high. Either way, the only certainty was that Slatton was very uncertain.
What he did know, however, was that the group, regardless of its youth, had talent.
“I hope we can sneak up on some people,” Slatton said before the season started.
Indeed. By season’s end, the Raiderettes amassed an amazing 19 victories, just one shy of 20, and just one shy of the Region 5-A semifinals. Not bad for a group with five players who could’ve easily been still playing middle school ball.
“I think a lot of it was that they really paid attention to details and they listened,” said Slatton. “And they played extremely hard. I don’t think we ever really got intimidated at all when we were playing against older kids. They maintained their composure really well.
“To come away with what we did, I think was very good. I think they played beyond their years. And with Savannah (Williams) going down, I think Makayla and Whitney and Gwen at times really stepped up. It was a cumulative team effort.”
Moore County’s girls were knocked out of the postseason Friday night thanks to a 59-47 loss to Nashville Christian School. But like most of the games this season, the Raiderettes (19-13) didn’t go down without a fight.
At Nashville Christian School, the game was tied twice in the third quarter and Moore County enjoyed a brief 37-36 lead with 1:11 left in the period. In the fourth quarter, the Raiderettes were still close with 3:15 left to play, trailing just 46-43.
But the host Lady Eagles, led by Kendall Lewis and Bailey Maddox, closed out the final 3 minutes on a 13-4 run. Most of that damage was done at the free throw line as Moore County was forced to foul in the waning minutes.
“They have a very good team. I think that was their 25th win or something,” added Slatton. “They also have a long memory. We beat them by about 45 here when they were freshmen, and last year in the region championship we beat them by 28. They have a long memory. They were focused on that game and they played well.”
After a basket by Sloan Mann pulled MCHS to within three points with just more than 3 minutes remaining, Nashville Christian went in front 48-43 at the 3:07 mark. Nashville Christian’s Sonja Shelton scored a basket all alone under the goal with 2:33 left to play to give the hosts their biggest lead of the half at 50-43.
The Raiderettes were still within six points, 51-45, with 1:20 remaining, but following an intentional foul, the Lady Eagles stretched the lead to 10 points — the first time it had reached double digits — and then knocked down plenty of free throws the rest of the way.
Nashville Christian was 11-of-14 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, with Lewis making all six of her attempts and Maddox going 5-for-7. Lewis finished the game with 21 points, while Maddox led all scorers with 22.
“They hit a couple of key baskets and they had enough composure down the stretch to hold onto the ball,” said Slatton. “We didn’t play with as much patience as we have in the last three weeks.”
Like it’s been most of the season, the Raiderettes were led by a pair of 8th-graders. Kursten Hawkins scored 20 points, including 11 in the first half, and Mann added 12.
Kinsley Logan, another 8th-grader, knocked down two huge three-pointers and finished with six points; 8th-grader Katie Thomas added three and Makayla Ray, Gwen Jacobs and Williams finished with two points each.
Moore County started the fourth quarter with five 8th-graders — Logan, Mann, Hawkins, Thomas and Chrissie Lockhart — on the court.
They were faced with the daunting task of trying to stay close to an experienced Nashville Christian squad while playing in a hostile environment in a gymnasium that’s actually smaller than Moore County’s.
“(At halftime) I really didn’t think that we had played that well,” Slatton said. “I told them that we hadn’t executed our gameplan that we had worked on for the last four days. I told them if we did that, we’d have a chance to win. We came out in the third quarter and we did that. Then in the fourth quarter I think we had some mistakes and some lapses, and I think that was just inexperience.”
Moore County had managed to keep Nashville Christian’s crowd relatively quiet throughout most of the contest. After trailing 15-9 at the end of the first period, the Raiderettes finally got some offensive productivity from Hawkins.
She began to get shots to fall on drives to the basket and Moore County’s defense picked up. The Raiderettes only gave up 11 points in the period, their best defensive period of the contest. Meanwhile, the visitors were also able to keep turnovers — a problem that often plagued them this season — to a minimum.
The Raiderettes got a lift from Williams, who hadn’t played since November, as she dropped in a 15-footer, and after trailing by as many as eight points, MCHS climbed right back into the game. The teams traded baskets over the final two minutes of the half and Moore County went to the locker room down by just two points, 26-24, at intermission.
Notes: The contributions of Moore County’s two seniors, often overshadowed by the horde of 8th-graders, shouldn’t be lost in the Raiderettes’ defeat, or throughout the 2013-14 season. Friday marked the final game for MCHS senior players Gwen Jacobs and Whitney Lemmon, who were members of three MCHS sub-state teams during their prep careers. … Slatton was proud to see a large contingent from Moore County pour into Nashville Christian’s tiny gym. “We appreciate the support from all the fans and it was great to see them all up there Friday night,” he said. … Elsewhere on Friday night, District 9-A champion Community thumped East Robertson 65-32; Forrest topped McEwen 48-39; and Houston County beat Middle Tennessee Christian 52-46. … In the Region 5-A semifinals on Monday night at East Robertson High School in Cross Plains, Houston County eliminated Forrest 36-32 and Community eliminated Nashville Christian 50-44. Community and Houston County, the two top seeds, were scheduled to play for the 5-A title on Wednesday night. Both teams will move on to Class A sectional contests.
—By ROBERT HOLMAN, Editor & Publisher