Lady Landers bring Regional Championship back to Roan Mountain

Published 2:38 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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By Ron Marvel

Star Correspondent

In a game reminiscent of “days gone by,” the Lady Highlanders endured a match that, at times, was painstakingly slow—a defensive struggle where each possession seemed to carry increased importance due to the simple fact that there wouldn’t be many. The North Greene Lady Huskies had a clear game plan: to slow the game down and force it into the fourth quarter. While it worked to a degree, the Lady Highlanders still capitalized on their limited opportunities to secure the win and claim their first Region 1-A Championship in 10 years.

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The game started, as was the case all night, slowly. Ryan Turbyfill and Izabella Christman helped the Lady Highlanders to a 6-2 lead in the first period. At times, the game became rather chippy, but to the officials’ credit, they allowed the teams to settle matters on the court.

In the second period, Landers’ MaKinna Shell hit a short floater in the paint to give her squad an 8-2 lead at the 6:23 mark. Mercy Buchanan managed a put-back to cut the lead to four points. That score stood until Lady Landers guard MaKenzie Street hit a left-handed push shot, extending the lead to 10-4 going into halftime. Lady Highlander senior Saharra McKinney spoke about her team’s halftime adjustments: “We knew they were going to come out physical. We had to hold our ground. The main thing we had to do was stay smart,” McKinney shared.

The adjustments seemed to work as the Lady Landers got good open looks at the basket but struggled to get their shots to fall. “They wanted to control the ball and keep it low-scoring. It frustrated us at times, and we couldn’t get into the rhythm we wanted, but defensively we did a great job taking their scorers away,” Lady Highlanders Head Coach Matt Birchfield shared. It is important to note that one of those scorers, Haley Bailey, is a Miss Tennessee Finalist and was held scoreless on the night.

At the 6:01 mark, McKinney found Turbyfill alone in the left corner, and she drained a 3-pointer to push the lead to 13-4. North Greene responded with a reverse layup from Ella Head to cut it to 13-6. Turbyfill and Shell extended the lead with back-to-back baskets, putting the Lady Highlanders ahead by double digits. The Huskies would cut the lead back to single digits, but McKinney hit a free throw to make it 18-8 going into the final period.

Near the six-minute mark of the final stanza, the Lady Huskies cut the lead to 8 after a short jumper at 18-10. The Lady Highlanders then took their time, forcing North Greene to chase. “It’s easy to get cocky in that situation, but you have to keep attacking them. If they swarm me, I can knock it back out. I was proud of my team tonight and what we did in those moments,” McKinney shared. Through tough rebounding and hustling after each loose ball, the Lady Highlanders kept possession for much of the fourth period. Izabella Christman muscled a shot in at the 2-minute mark, and the Lady Landers held off the Lady Huskies for the 26-17 win.

Turbyfill scored 9 in the contest, while Shell had 6. McKinney, the tournament’s MVP, was held to 3 points, but her ball-handling played a huge role in the game. Shell, Turbyfill, and Christman also received tournament honors.

Post-game, Coach Birchfield spoke about what it means to now host a sub-state game in Roan Mountain: “We have been there before, but to host a game in front of our crowd at home, it’s big to be back in Roan Mountain.” The Lady Landers will now turn their attention to a matchup with Sunbright on Saturday at 7 p.m.