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Too much horsepower… Lady Mustangs romp past Cloudland to spot in state semifinals

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
MURFREESBORO – Sometimes as a head coach, you want to stay positive for your team especially when you reach the state tournament but after watching a film of your upcoming opponent you realize in your heart of hearts that it would take a miracle to pull off a victory to stay in the tournament.

For Cloudland head coach Matt Birchfield, the coach knew his team would give it everything they had to the very end which the Lady ‘Landers did however it was not even going to be close as the Loretto Lady Mustangs stampeded out to a 44-20 lead by the half and never looked back in eliminating the Lady ‘Landers from the Class A BlueCross Girls State Championship by a 63-31 final.

Loretto simply was spot on from the opening tip to the final horn building a 22-7 lead at the first horn and adding 22 more points to their total in the second period.

Karly Weathers showed why she is being considered for the Class A Miss Basketball in Tennessee as the 5’11 junior Lady Mustang was hitting from deep and then spun her magic on the inside as she led four Loretto players in double figures with 21 points in the contest.

The Lady Mustangs have been at this level so many times it was almost like playing on their home court.

“Our goal was just to come back and we are thankful that we are just able to play basketball,” said Loretto head coach Ashley Rutledge. “It’s been a driving force for us.

“We are comfortable here and I think with Cloudland that may have been a disadvantage because they haven’t been here in a few years. The girls play comfortably here. We have had a brutal schedule and we have traveled 12 hours in the last two weeks to play two games just to get here.”

The Lady Highlanders knew what lay before them coming out of the locker room but just weren’t able to slice into the big lead as the Lady Mustangs continued to build their advantage as the lead ballooned to 58-22 by the end of the third quarter.

Rutledge went to her bench in the fourth period with the big lead as the game ended in a running clock.

“We always strive to do our best on defense,” Rutledge said of her team’s effort, especially in the third period. “We were switching things up a lot in the first half and they got some open looks here and there but at halftime, we said we were going to hold them to six points in the third quarter.

“Our girls did a good job of calling the ball screens. It’s hard to shoot over our length and we definitely use that to our advantage.”

Aside from Karly Weathers’s effort, senior Kensey Weathers added 14 points while Madelinn Tidwell and Autumn Buttrum totaled 10 points each.

Cloudland’s Jasmine Birchfield scored 10 points in the contest to pace Cloudland. Heaven Caraway tallied eight points with Gracie Freeman scoring six.

Saharra McKinney dropped in five points while Mandy Benfield closed out the scoring with two points.

For the game, Loretto was over 50 percent in all three offensive categories hitting 23-38 from the field for a 60.5 percent clip. The Lady Mustangs hit 7-of-13 from beyond the three-point arc for a 53.8 percent showing and hit 10-of-11 from the charity stripe working out to a 90.9 percent showing.

Cloudland, meanwhile, struggled from the field hitting only 12-of-44 shots for a 27.3 percent showing but were 6-of-15 beyond the arc, a 40 percent effort.

The Lady ‘Landers only made four trips to the foul line hitting one for 25 percent.

Loretto had a slight rebound edge pulling down 26 boards to 21 for Cloudland including 10 on the offensive boards and 11 on the defensive side.

Birchfield said after the contest that the comfortability that Rutledge spoke off had a lot to do with the Lady Mustangs showing.

“They have been here in back-to-back years, maybe three years in a row, being comfortable and shooting well does make it tough on us,” said Birchfield. “We haven’t been here since 2013 and that is a big difference in the game.”

Coming into the contest, the Cloudland head coach knew what he would be facing in the length presented by the Loretto team admitting he really didn’t know how he was going to defend it.

“We talked about it all week about their length,” added Birchfield. “The Weathers girl up top on the press really hurt us. We are small and had to be fundamentally sound and we weren’t early. They got some turnovers and quick baskets off the press.

“They are just so hard to defend with their length and the way they shoot it.”

Finally, Birchfield reflected on what his seniors have meant to the Cloudland program.

“I had those kids in middle school and won the East Tennessee Sectional but what a career they have had. What great young ladies. Those kids have a lot going on and still have 4.0 in the classroom.

“It was a big accomplishment for our seniors to finish out their career like this.”