After the rush of clinching the District 6-AA tournament championship Tuesday night before a packed house, the letdown was probably unavoidable. But fortunately for the East Hamilton Lady Hurricanes, the upset was.
Playing before a home grandstand that held as many Polk County fans as East Hamilton supporters, the Lady Hurricanes let two leads slip away, but never let the Wildkittens seize the lead in a 47-42 first-round victory in the Region 3-AA event.
East Hamilton sparkplugs Jessica Caudle and Juliette Harp combined for 28 points, but neither scored in a dicey fourth quarter that saw Polk County score 12 straight points for a 39-all deadlock with less than three minutes to play. But fortunately for the Lady 'Canes, Caudle has a freshman sister.
Kyndall Caudle, the team's lone freshman starter, scored six of her 10 points in the final three minutes. After Polk County had tied it on Emily Wilson's second straight 3-pointer, Kyndall responded with two foul shots at the 2:25 mark. Polk's Riley Hatcher answered with one free throw,, but Kyndall came straight back to hit a jumper for a 43-40 lead.
Following a timeout, Polk's Rachel Epperson nailed a layup with 36 seconds left in the game to close the gap back to 43-42. Once again, Kyndall was put on the line and the ninth-grader converted both ends of a one-and-one with 19 seconds to play. Needing a trey, Polk was unable to get the ball to either of the game's hot hands and the best shot the visitors could manage was an off-balance heave by Isabel Liner, who did not score Friday.
"Kyndal made a few freshman mistakes early in the game, but she also stepped up when she was needed," said East Hamilton coach Derek Morris. "I never know with this team, but I thought they were focused tonight even if they were a little loose."
"We were successful getting the ball to Jessica on the wing, but they adjusted well," Morris acknowledged. "We didn't get the ball to Juliette at all; she got all of her 10 points on offensive rebounds."
Coach Johnny Hayes' Wildkittens won only two District 5-AA games all season, but got four quarters of hustle and effort.
"Our girls did not back down," Hayes said. "We played hard the entire game."
Both coaches had concerns about the way the game was officiated. Only three fouls were called in the entire first half, with East Hamilton whistled only once in the half. Whistles came early and often in the fourth quarter, with East Hamilton hitting 6 of 8 in the final 2:25.
Jessica Caudle hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter alone and 11 total points in the period en route to her game-high 18. Harp and Kyndall Caudle finished with 10 points each. Wilson, who scored nine points in Polk's fourth-quarter scramble, led the Wildkittens with 13 points. Riley Hatcher added 11 for the Wildkittens (6-23).
In Friday's other Region 3-AA girls contests, Tyner came up with a road win, defeating host Sequoyah 36-29. District 6-AA runnerup Howard fell flat at home, 75-47 to Meigs County. District
5-AA champ McMinn Central routed Brainerd 76-32. Tyner will play East Hamilton in one semifinal, while Meigs County meets McMinn Central.
One boys' game was played Friday in the 3-AA bracket, and in it, Grundy County's Cinderella story came to an abrupt end at the hands of Livingston Academy (25-8), 100-51. The Yellow Jackets' season ends at 8-19.
Region 3-AA at East Hamilton
Polk County 9 10 8 15 -- 42
East Hamilton 15 9 13 10 -- 47
POLK CO. (42) -- Liner, Johnson 4, Riley Hatcher 11, Emily Wilson 13, McClung, Epperson 6, Hayes 8.
EAST HAMILTON (47) -- Jessica Caudle 18, Juliette Harp 10, Woods, Kyndall Caudle 10, Zackery 5, Moon 4, Wood.
3-point goals: Polk County 6 (Hatcher 2, Hayes 2, Wilson 2); East Hamilton 5 (J.Caudle 4, Zackery). Records: East Hamilton 23-9; Polk Co. 6-23.
Region 4-AA Sweeps Out 7-AA DIstrict Girls
Bledsoe County, fresh off of winning the District 7-AA tournament, had its season end abruptly Friday night with a 55-48 home loss to Upperman in the first round of othe Region 4-AA event. Upperman (14-18) was one of four District 8-AA teams to advance Friday.
The Bledsoe girls' season ends with a 19-11 record. Also losing at home Friday night was 7-AA runnerup Notre Dame, which fell to York Institute 56-41. The Lady Irish season ends at 19-9, while York moves on at 20-11.
District 7-AA teams falling Friday also include Chattanooga Christian, a 64-47 loser to Cannon County, and Grundy County, which was blown away by Livingston Academy 66-42.