At Arts & Sciences
WHITWELL 62, VAN BUREN 35
Van Buren 10 12 6 7 -- 35
Whitwell 11 17 18 16 -- 62
Van Buren (35) -- Butcher 8, Grissom 2, Hitchcock, Thornton 8, Shockley 4, Hankins, Lakelyn Bouldin 13, Christian.
Whitwell (62) -- Condra 9, Caldwell 6, Haley Atterton 12, Halle Ware 17, Carter 5, Coppinger, Bennington 2, Kelsey Kilgore 10, Hedrick, Gholston 1.
3-point goals: Van Buren 2 (Butcher 2); Whitwell 4 (Kilgore 2, Condra, Carter); Other highlights: Bouldin 10 r, 3 s; Anna Thornton 8 r (V); Allie Caldwell 4 a, 3 s; Ware 3 s, 3 a; Brooke Bennington 6 r (W). Records: Whitwell 27-6; Whitwell 13-18. Up next: Whitwell will host loser of Jackson County and Clay County in Saturday sectional.
With about a minute remaining in their Region 3-A championship game against Van Buren County, Whitwell guard Halle Ware dribbled the ball across the midcourt line. She stopped over halfcourt, and continued a slow cadence of dribbles as the Eaglettes stood and watched. At that point, the silent message from them was clear: We concede.
The Lady Tigers' endless pressure led to 23 turnovers, and they were able to claim the school's first-ever region championship with a 62-35 victory Wednesday at Arts & Sciences. Whitwell improves to 27-6 on the season and will face 10th-ranked Clay County, who fell 58-45 to third-ranked Jackson County in the Region 4-A title game.
Ware, named the tournament Most Valuable Player, finished with a game-high 17 points, relentlessly attacking gaps in the Van Buren defense, but it was the Whitwell defense that stretched a 28-22 halftime lead to 18 points by the end of the third quarter.
"We just wanted to win play as tight of pressure defense as possible and make it as difficult for their guards as we could," Whitwell coach Eric Zensen said. "I think that the full-court pressure finally wore them [Van Buren] down."
Haley Atterton had 12 points, while Kelsey Kilgore added 10, including back-to-back 3s after being left wide open during a couple of third-quarter possessions. The pressure finally started to get to the Eaglettes, as they had nearly half of their turnovers -- 11 -- in the third.
"You can only hold up to that amount of pressure for so long," Van Buren coach Amy Russell said afterwards.
Ahead comfortably in the final quarter, the Lady Tigers backed off a little, running a minute off the clock on their first possession and their last. The defensive pressure never backed off, however, as Braylie Condra had a pair of steals that led to layups in the final minutes.
"The good thing is that we're a deep bunch, and can sustain that sort of pressure the entire game," Zensen said.
The Lady Tigers played the game without post Sarah Green, who had an MRI Wednesday after a bad fall in the region semifinals against Marion County. Zensen said the thought is that she might have torn her MCL and ACL, but that Green "is a warrior. She's still talking about playing."
"I challenged our posts to step up in Sarah's absence," he said, "but we needed our guards to pick it up as well. I felt they all did tonight."
Van Buren eighth-grader Lakelyn Bouldin, who averaged 26 points in her first two games since being moved up from middle school, led the Eaglettes (13-18) with 13 points, adding 10 rebounds and three steals -- all team highs.