Because the TSSAA has barred Brainerd's girls from this high school basketball postseason, the Lady Panthers are imited to one goal this season, and that's the District 6-AA regular-season title. Tuesday at East Hamilton, they took a big step toward that goal.
The Lady Panthers turned around an early five-point deficit and used a strong first-half finish to propel their way to a 63-51 victory over the Lady Hurricanes.
Brainerd (6-2) entered the game 2-0 in the league standings. East Hamilton (7-2) was 3-0.
"They've got nothing to lose," East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said of the Lady Panthers, who ended up in a team fight with Howard at the end of their consolation game in last year's district tournament and as a result received a two-year postseason ban. "This was their playoffs.
"Thankfully we get a chance to play them again. We get a chance to get them back later on at their palce in January."
The Lady Hurricanes took a 7-2 lead, which included one of six 3-pointers by Tiffany Lewis, who led them with 23 points. However, Brainerd outscored them 30-11 the rest of the first half.
The Lady Panthers' plan from the start was evident, and that was to get the ball to Tiara Boston in the post area. She responded with 17 points in the first two quarters.
"They exposed our big weakness," Morris said. "We've got some quickness in there, but as far as banging, we're going to have to get physically tougher and mentally tougher."
With a 10-point lead going to the fourth quarter, Brainerd coach Carolyn Jackson brought Boston out away from the goal to help with the ball-handling. The senior finished with 30 points, including 15-of-22 free-throw shooting to go with one 3-pointer.
"She can play all five positions," Jackson said. "She can go in the post and take girls off the dribble. She can be hard to handle on that block, and she's going to go to the free-throw line a lot. She can also handle the ball and put people in places where they need to be. And if she sees an opening, she's going to the basket.
"I think this is going to be her year."
The Lady Panthers will visit unbeaten Tyner on Friday with sole possession of first place in the district in the balance.
"That's going to be a good one, too," Jackson said.
Each team suffered a potentially costly injury in the game. With 41.7 seconds to play, East Hamilton lost key reserve Shay Scott with an injury to her right arm. She lay on the court several minutes while being treated but left the floor under her own power with the arm bandaged.
Lady Panthers forward Erika Davenport scored nine points before being decked at the third-quarter buzzer. She did not return and will be evaluated because of possible concussion-like symptoms.
Brainerd had lost guard Channelle Rogers to an ACL injury earlier this month. Jackson played two substitutes Tuesday.
"Our bench is already thin," the coach said.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.