Flying all over the court — and even into her team's bench in pursuit of a loose ball — East Hamilton junior Madison Hayes once again left those around her amazed.
The Class AAA Miss Basketball finalist willed the host Lady Hurricanes to a late comeback in a 56-49 victory over Rhea County in a first-round matchup at the Region 3-AAA tournament Friday night, finishing with 29 points — she was 9-for-23 from the field and 10-for-11 on free throws — 18 rebounds, seven steals, six blocks and five assists.
Then she gave credit to others.
"My teammates always help make me a better player," Hayes said. "I needed to utilize them tonight because they were doubling down in the post. We did not want to lose and have our season end tonight. We all listened to each other and believed."
East Hamilton (21-12) will face Stone Memorial (22-5) in a 3-AAA semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Bradley Central, with the losing team's season over. Bradley Central, which beat White County 63-48 in the first round, and Cookeville meet at 6 p.m. in the other semifinal.
It took a team effort for the Lady Hurricanes to extend their season to next week, with Rhea County (16-15) providing quite the challenge. The Lady Eagles took a 45-36 lead with 6:07 to play on Maddie Taylor's 3-pointer, her team's ninth of the game.
The Lady Hurricanes answered with a 6-0 burst over the next 1:43 to cut their deficit to 45-42. DeZah Lacy hit a bank shot, Maya Patton sank an 18-footer and Hayes made a tough shot in the paint while fading to her left.
Then the 6-foot-1 Hayes surprised a Rhea County shooter when she caught her 3-point attempt in flight before tossing ahead to a driving McKenna Hayes for a layup to cut the deficit to one.
Post player Eliziah Laboo nailed a deep 2-pointer to give the Lady Hurricanes a 46-45 lead with 3:41 left, capping the 10-0 run. They outscored Rhea County 20-10 in the fourth quarter.
"We played even harder when we got down," East Hamilton coach Hunter Gremore said. "Madison had an unbelievable night, but a lot of girls stepped up and hit big shots. They all picked up their intensity when we needed it most."
Madison Hayes broke a tie and gave her team the lead for good when she picked her opponent's pocket to drive the lane hard while drawing a foul. She made the free throw — one of 10 straight by the Division I prospect — and it was 51-48 with 1:31 remaining.
Hayes was sharpest on offense at the start — she made her first four shots — and the finish, scoring 10 points apiece in the first and fourth quarters.
Mallory Hampton scored 18 points to lead Rhea County, and Haley Cameron added 12.
Lacy finished with 11 for the Lady Hurricanes, who struggled from 3-point range, going 2-for-20.
Hayes was one of the reasons that ended up not mattering.
"Madison was all over the court like always," Gremore said. "We are spoiled. You don't see juniors like her.
"I hope our girls continue to rally around each other and peak at the right time."