The Brainerd and Hixson girls' basketball teams now have played each other three times this season, and the meetings have been decided by a total of four points. Yet the series has gone entirely Brainerd's way.
Taking the lead when Jamee Ward made the second of two free throws with less than 10 seconds to play, the Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Wildcats 36-35 in a District 6-AA tournament semifinal Monday at Howard.
"When we have to play Hixson we expect a dogfight," Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward said. "Our girls know that. We're pretty much equivalent teams."
Brainerd (17-7) will take on Central in the championship game tonight at 7. Hixson (16-9) faces Tyner in the consolation game at 4.
Brainerd defeated East Ridge 62-42 and Tyner beat Central 78-55 in boys' semifinals Monday. Central and East Ridge will play for third place at 5:30 and Brainerd will face Tyner in the 8:30 final.
Monday's meeting between Brainerd and Hixson featured three ties and four lead changes. Each team's largest lead was six points.
The Lady Wildcats created the final tie when Ciera Taylor made a 3-point shot from the left wing with 3:11 to play. Neither team scored again until Ward was fouled on a drive with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Hixson called a timeout before Ward went to the line and called two timeouts after. Both teams altered strategies a bit during those breaks before the Lady Wildcats ultimately inbounded to Shawnquell Stanfield, who drove the length of the floor and put up a shot from right of the key with three seconds left that failed to draw iron. Both teams had chances at the rebound, which wound up sailing out of bounds at the buzzer.
"My point guard was too gimpy and just couldn't bring it up," Hixson coach Matthew Smith said of Taylor. "We had to put it in our backup freshman's hands. We didn't want a pull-up 3, but she got a look. We almost had the offensive rebound, too. We should've gotten into the paint and attacked the rim. But she's a freshman. She'll learn with time."
Coach Ward, whose team trailed at the end of each of the first three quarters, was pleased with his team's defense at the end.
"That's the shot we wanted them to take -- a long 3-pointer," he said. "If it goes in, it goes in. The thing we didn't want to do right there is foul. A long 3-pointer, they can take that."
His sister picked up three fouls in the first half but carried the Lady Panthers' offense in the second half. She scored 12 of her 19 points in the final 9:34.
"She's got a step-back 3 that a lot of guys around can't do," Smith said of Jamee Ward. "We made her take hard shots."
T.T. Staten scored 12 points and Virginia Rivers and Taylor added 10 apiece for Hixson, which made 5 of 16 free throws.
Jumeka Brown contributed 10 points for the Lady Panthers, who made 6 of 13 free throws.
"I don't think either team took advantage of their free throws," Smith said. "We held Brainerd under 40 points. We'll take that any day of the week."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.