By Andy Reed
MURFREESBORO — On more than one occasion, Houston appeared on the verge of blowing Mt. Juliet out of Murphy Center.
But the Lady Bears repeatedly battled back until time ran out in a 65-58 loss in the Class AAA state quarterfinals Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State.
Houston used a 10-0 run in each half to open double-digit leads before Mt. Juliet climbed back into the game. But the Lady Mustangs held on to return to Friday’s state semifinal against three-time champion Riverdale, which has ousted Houston the last two years, with a 30-2 record.
Mt. Juliet’s final record is 27-7.
“We were in an elimination game going to Henry County, we were in an elimination game going to Dickson, so these girls know when these games come about, the know how to stay in the game and find a way to compete,” Mt. Juliet coach Chris Fryer said. “You just can’t doubt them. You never know what they will bring to the table. When we got beat by Lebanon in the region final, I was thinking this season could be over. How would we respond to that? We came out and played one of our best games against Dickson.
“I’ve really enjoyed this year coaching them as much as any team we’ve had because they were so easy to come in and practice. They didn’t mind coming in to practice on Saturdays. They didn’t complain about practicing on Sundays. Their attitude was good throughout the year. They wanted to be in the gym. They wanted to play basketball… They like being around each other.”
Te Lady Bears led 2-0 and 4-2. But a 10-0 spurt opened an 18-7 Lady Mustang lead going into the second quarter.
But Mt. Juliet played its game in the second and twice drew to within a point as Tondriannha Davis tossed in 12 first-half points in her Lady Bear finale as Houston held a 29-27 halftime edge.
Houston is a team when one hole is plugged, another by zoning them, but their kids made some shots, and that’s what you got to do to win,” Fryer said. “This is their third year here and I know they’re hungry.”
But Mt. Juliet, playing in front of a surprisingly sparse crowd, wouldn’t go away as the Lady Bears worked the margin down to a final seven.
Mississippi State-bound Jayla Hemingway led the Lady Mustangs with 24 points, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed six rebounds. Madison Griggs fired in four triples on her way to 16 points and eight rebounds while Destinee Wells threw in 13, sinking all six of her shots, to go with five assists and three steals as Houston hit 24 of 45 from the floor and outrebounded Mt. Juliet 31-24.
“Our zone defense affected them some, but they still scored 29 points in the first half,” Fryer said. “Defensively, I thought for us to play man like we’ve done most of the year, was going to be hard because their point guard is good at getting the ball into the paint. We rolled the dice some, but I felt it gave us the best opportunity. The third quarter, they knocked some three-balls down. (Tatiana Gary) started it off, which was unexpected… That kind of opened the flood gates.”
Davis, who with Gentry Houston are Mt. Juliet’s only seniors, dropped in 19 points, including three triples, while Emma Palmer posted 16 points and nine rebounds and freshman Reghan Grimes 12 points and six caroms. Ryleigh Osborne sank a pair of threes for her six while junior Nevaeh Majors finished with five points and eight assists.
“When Tee (Davis) started as a freshman, that team was 16-13, the closest thing to a losing season we’ve had at Mt. Juliet,” said Fryer, who just concluded his 21st season as head coach. “And now, she’s ended her career by going to two state tournaments.
“I’ve had really good teams that never made it over here… There’s an expectation. Winning has become one of the more important things because we’ve built such a monster. It’s a disappointing season if you don’t win 25 games, and that’s hard to live up to. You have to work really hard to accomplish that. It takes a lot of work in the offseason. No one in our program right now has lived in the gym more than Tee. The amount of hours I’ve seen in four years probably beats any kid we’ve had in our program.”