By Alex Norman
For only the third time in program history, the Bearden Lady Bulldogs were playing in the state tournament.
And they were doing all they could to make the most of the opportunity.
Bearden played in the first game of the entire tournament in Murfreesboro against Dickson County on the morning of Wednesday, March 4th. Due to the winter weather in East Tennessee in recent weeks, and seemingly endless days off of school, the Lady Bulldogs did not enter their Class AAA quarterfinal game with the Lady Cougars as a relaxed bunch.
It was their fourth game in the last five days.
“The girls were a little sore,” said Bearden head coach Justin Underwood. “But when I asked them they said we can rest when we get back.”
Bearden led for all but an early minute of the first three periods. However, the game was close throughout. With 6:50 remaining in the fourth, the Lady Cougars would even the score at 34 thanks to a rebound and basket by junior guard Chassity Lea Lea Carter.
The Lady Bulldogs (32-3) responded immediately with a 13-0 run, sparked by two baskets in 23 seconds by junior Anajae Stephney. She finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in only 21 minutes.
“Anajae was huge for us today and that was (while she was) fighting through foul trouble,” said Underwood. “When she is at her best, she is a dominant player and can change a game.
The difference in this game was rebounding. Bearden (31-4) outrebounded Dickson County 46-26 on the day. On the offensive glass that advantage was 21-7, leading to a 22-4 margin for the Lady Bulldogs in second chance points.
“We have talked all season about the importance of rebounding,” said Underwood. “Today was by far our best rebounding especially on the offensive end of the floor. It gave our girls second chance opportunities which really helped since we were not hitting much in the first half.”
As a team Bearden finished the game on a 23-15 run, as the Lady Bulldogs moved on to the semifinals with a 57-49 victory.
“This matches the deepest run in Bearden girls basketball history,” said Underwood. “I am so proud of every girl in our program for their commitment to each other and to this season.”
Bearden was scheduled to face Oakland in the semifinals on the morning of Friday, March 6th. However, thanks to the inclement weather in the Murfreesboro area on March 5th, the entire schedule was pushed back a day.
“There is no way that we are willing to put any student-athlete’s life in jeopardy in order to try to play a basketball game,” stated Bernard Childress, Executive Director of TSSAA. “To us, the safety of the student-athletes, coaches, fans, and anyone attending or participating in the state basketball tournament is first and foremost.”
“This year we have had many weather setbacks so I think the kids are used to it,” said Underwood. “It gives our girls a chance to rest and get their legs underneath them.”
Saturday’s semifinal matchup took place after The Knoxville Focus went to press. For results on the Lady Bulldogs game against Oakland, please visit www.tssaa.org.