I’m going to get quick to the point and cut to the chase — I’m really impressed with Larry Anderson’s Whitley County Lady Colonel basketball team.
Win or lose a 13th Region title this season, this team is a special one.
I sensed it back when photographer Darrin Spencer and myself were doing the photo shoot of Anderson and seven Lady Colonel players for the Times-Tribune’s Prep Basketball Special Section back in November.
The players were nice, outgoing and carried themselves great. Anything we asked them to do, they did it with no eyes rolling and no questions asked.
They had a certain confidence in themselves and it showed again during Whitley County’s buzzer-beating 58-55 win over 13th Region power Clay County on Monday.
Let’s not kid ourselves folks, the four-time defending 13th Region champion Lady Tigers have been the measuring stick for other teams in the 13th Region dating back to the 2005-06 season.
Before Monday’s loss to Whitley County, Ivy Burchell’s squad was 106-3 since the ‘05-06 season while riding a 61-game win streak against regional opponents. Clay County’s last regional loss since dropping a 74-64 decision to South Laurel on March 9, 2008 in the 13th Region Tournament championship game.
And we didn’t have any other reason to believe Whitley County wouldn’t be victim No. 62 on Monday.
Sure high expectations are surrounding this year’s team, but this is basically the same Lady Colonel team that entered as the 13th Region Tournament last season with the best chances to knock off Clay County, but to only see them being upset by North Laurel in the first round.
But something is different so far in this young season, you could sense right before tip-off Anderson’s players were ready to make amends for last year’s shortcomings.
In the past, the Lady Tigers have always had solid post players (they still do) and Alisha Mitchell handling the ball, but she graduated this past season, handing the point guard duties to talented players Ajaycia Cotton and Talaura Mathis.
I’ve always said Mitchell will go down as one of the most underrated players in the 13th Region. She was the true meaning of a floor general and her absence hurt Clay County Monday.
The Lady Tigers turned the ball over five times in the first quarter, allowing Whitley County to only trail 14-11 and by the time halftime rolled around, the Lady Colonels had forced the Lady Tigers into nine miscues and only trailed, 29-28.
Everyone that was on the floor knew Clay County’s dominance over regional opponents was in serious jeopardy.
“We knew they were a really good team, but we started picking things up in the end and breaking their press and I thought we felt pretty comfortable,” Whitley County’s Brandi Smith said.
But things began to take a turn for the worse in the third quarter with the inside duo of Clay County’s Cheyenne Madden and Morgan Chesnut heating up. A basket by Madden late in the third quarter ignited one of the Lady Tigers’ patented runs, a 7-0 one, to be exact, giving them a 40-36 lead.
In years past, most regional teams would have folded, but not this time.
Whitley County responded with a three-pointer by Hallie Jones and a free throw by Smith to tie the game at 40 apiece with eight minutes remaining, leaving the Lady Tigers stunned and frustrated.
At that moment, I realized Whitley County was for real.
The Lady Colonels took Clay County’s best punch and responded with a flurry at the end of the quarter to regain the momentum. Only two regional teams before Whitley County could lay claim to accomplishing that feat during the past eight years.
It carried over into the fourth quarter with Anderson’s squad scoring the first eight points to lead, 48-40, with 5:00 remaining.
But like a true champion, The Lady Tigers didn’t go down without a fight.
A 15-5 run capped off by a basket by Madden gave her team a slim 55-53 lead with :50 remaining, but once again, Anderson’s squad never flinched.
The Lady Colonels tied the game at 53 apiece with :33 left and capped off their biggest win in quite some time, as Smith’s three-point heave hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
It’s only Dec. 12 and Anderson along with his players will be the first to say the season is a marathon and not a sprint.
But the streak is over, and more importantly, the Lady Colonels left Manchester Monday the same way they entered — confident, unbeaten and special.