For all of Central's fourth-quarter woes this high school basketball season, the other six girls' teams in District 6-AA would gladly trade places with the Lady Purple Pounders.
As has been the case in more than a couple of their victories this season, the Lady Pounders did enough in the first three quarters to mask their late-game inefficiencies as they won 36-31 Monday at Hixson.
Central (13-5, 9-1) clinched at least the No. 2 seeding for the district tournament. The Lady Pounders play at Red Bank tonight, and a win there would secure the regular-season championship. They also have a district game at home next Tuesday against Tyner.
"For this bunch of girls, and this whole program, they're all new to this kind of stuff," Central coach Rick May said. "Everything from here on is new to them."
Hixson (14-6, 7-2) has league games remaining against Tyner, Howard and Friday at Brainerd (7-2 6-AA).
The catalyst again for the Lady Pounders was a swarming defense, led by Sandrea Sylman and her six steals. They led 15-5 at the end of the first quarter and 34-17 at the end of three.
Then that lead -- their largest -- was down to six points after T.T. Staten's steal and layup with 40 seconds to play.
"We waited too late to play hard," Hixson coach Matthew Smith said. "We've got to come out intense at the start. We can't be down by 10 at the end of the first quarter and then outscore them the rest of the game. We don't have the firepower to do that. We made them sweat at the end, but we had so many turnovers the first 16 minutes, we couldn't recover from that."
Central played the fourth quarter without making a field-goal attempt while turning the ball over nine times. But Sylman converting both ends of a one-and-one with 12.1 seconds remaining made it a three-possession game and essentially sealed it.
"You have to give credit to Hixson," said May, whose team blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime to Hixson in their first meeting. "But we hung on again. We played three really good quarters. The fourth quarter we regressed a little bit."
Sylman was Central's only double-figure scorer with 15 points. Alexus Mitchell led the rebounding with seven.
Hixson, which was limited to seven field goals in the first three quarters, also had one double-figure scorer in Staten, whose 15 points were all in the last three quarters.
"We can't blame the layoff," Smith said of the recent snow and ice that prevented area teams from playing or practicing most of last week. "Everyone had a layoff."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.