Van Buren County and Arts & Sciences both seem to favor playing a knockdown, drag-out brand of basketball. So when the teams met Wednesday in the Region 3-A girls' high school championship game, it was fairly evident ahead of time what was going to happen.
What wasn't known ahead of time is which team would win, and the outcome was still in doubt in the waning seconds.
Ultimately, Van Buren forced an off-balance shot that drew no iron, and as the scramble for the ball in the lane happened as the final horn sounded, the Eaglettes landed a 50-48 victory at Arts & Sciences.
Girls' sectionals are Saturday. CSAS (17-14) will play at Clarkrange, which defeated Jackson County 49-47 for the Region 4 championship. Van Buren (24-8) will host Jackson County.
Both games are scheduled for 8 p.m. EST. Saturday's winners will advance to the state tournament in Murfreesboro.
Van Buren was coming off defeating Silverdale Baptist Academy by two points in overtime Monday, so Eaglettes coach Cheryl Cole went with a light practice Tuesday. Wednesday marked the third time her team has beaten CSAS this season -- each time before coming on a last-second shot.
"We knew this was coming," Cole said of another physical game with the Lady Patriots. "We worked on just shooting yesterday. We only talked about what we wanted to do defensively."
The battle for region supremacy was so close, when CSAS began by taking a 9-2 lead, it proved to be the game's largest margin. The fifth tie was at 37, which was the score heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Patriots were leading 43-39 when the Eaglettes came out of a timeout with 6:02 to play and got back-to-back 3-point goals from Lakelyn Bouldin and Carly Cole for a two-point lead and the game's 11th lead change.
"That's what we've had all season," Coach Cole said of her team's late clutch shooting. "Those shots have fallen for us. We're not really looking for them in that situation, but if they're there, we like to take them."
Van Buren added to its lead with a rebound basket by Shelby Christian followed by two free throws by Bouldin with 2:21 to play, but CSAS wasn't done. Sheridan Randolph's 3-pointer from the left wing and Brooke Mitchell's basket down low made it a one-point game going to the final minute.
After Cole made the front end of a bonus situation with 25.5 seconds remaining, the Lady Patriots had two shots roll off the rim before a held ball was called with 14.5 seconds to go. With the arrow favoring their way, the Lady Patriots inbounded then and again at the 8.9-second mark, but the Eaglettes' defense was up to the task.
"That's just how it goes sometimes," CSAS coach Zach Dragoo said. "If you would've told me we'd score 48 points, I'd have bet we would've won the game. I didn't feel we were as energized defensively as we had been on this streak.
"We wanted to pressure the ball and wear them down a little bit. We had people not be where they were supposed to be. We were out of position on some rebounds, and gave up a lot of easy baskets when we didn't help."
Bouldin, a sophomore, backed her 28-point semifinal effort against the Lady Seahawks with 20 points Wednesday and was chosen the tournament's most valuable player.
"It was very intense," Bouldin said. "We knew what we had to do to come out with a win. It wasn't a pretty game at all. CSAS has a very good team. You have to give them credit. We were slow coming out but we played together as a team. I never doubted us. With our chemistry, I knew we could pull it out."
Allison McCoy contributed 12 points for Van Buren.
CSAS was led by Keturah Billen with 18 points. Lennex Walker added 10 off the bench.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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.