WHITWELL, Tenn. — Courtney Zensen sent her home gymnasium into an uproar at the halftime buzzer Saturday night.
With cat-like reflexes, Zensen reached high in the air with her left hand to come up with her fifth steal of the half. Whitwell's junior star proceeded to race downcourt and finish with her nondominant shooting hand off the glass just before the horn for a 23-19 lead at intermission of a TSSAA sectional.
While Whitwell's packed-in crowd reached extraordinarily high decibels, the home sideline felt heartbreak late as Clay County staged a fourth-quarter comeback to win 41-39 and secure its spot in the eight-team Class 1A state tournament that starts Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.
Halle Buford helped provide the difference for the visiting Lady Bulldogs (25-5) as the left-handed shooter found her form by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, when she had 10 of her game-high 15 points. Briley Burchett was strong in the post, with 12 of her 14 points coming in the first half for Clay County.
The Lady Tigers (25-9) had a pair of opportunities in the final 23 seconds to tie the game, but they fell just short to conclude an incredible season. It was Whitwell's first appearance in the sectional round since the 2012-13 campaign in which they went 26-9 and lost by six to Clarkrange with a state berth on the line.
"These girls have worked extremely hard since day one," Lady Tigers coach Eric Zensen said. "They played a really tough schedule at the beginning in which we started 1-4. From there we just kept getting better and better. This group has had a great season.
"To know we were this close to making our program's first state appearance is tough, but we are thankful for the season we were able to have together."
Whitwell bounced back from an early 15-7 deficit as Lilly Dzinglski caught a hot hand in the second quarter, scoring eight points and draining a pair of 3s as part of a 16-4 run to end the half. Addie Colvard also hit clutch shots and scored her 1,000th career point in the third quarter, which came to a close with Whitwell up 30-27.
While an 11-game winning streak came to a close along with the season, the future is bright with Zensen and several of her teammates returning.
Zensen averaged more than 20 points, six steals, five assists and one block per game this season. She had 14 points and seven steals in Saturday's defeat.
"This year Courtney had to take more ownership, and she did a great job of that," her coach and father said. "I am proud of her and every girl on this team. We battled, and they didn't let up all game long."
Murfreesboro Oakland 43, Bradley Central 41 (OT): In a Class 4A sectional in Cleveland, Oakland held Bradley Central without a field goal in overtime to eliminate the Bearettes (29-4) from the postseason and advance to the state tournament.
Layups by Myah Sutton and Destiny Newman gave Oakland a four-point lead in the extra period, and Bradley Central made just two of four free throws while missing all four of its field-goal attempts. The Bearettes' Hannah Jones scored a game-high 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Harmonie Ware added nine points and four rebounds.
Neither team led by more than five, and the Bearettes shot just 4-of-19 from 3-point range.
In another Class 4A sectional involving a Chattanooga-area team, McMinn County lost 62-43 to Murfreesboro's Blackman. In Class 3A, East Hamilton lost 66-26 to Upperman, while in Class 2A, Polk County lost 57-37 to Gatlinburg-Pittman and McMinn Central lost 66-61 to Alcoa.
Tri-Cities 71, Calhoun 68 (OT): In a GHSA Class AAAAA semifinal at Fort Valley State University, the Yellow Jackets held a 10-point lead in the second half before the Bulldogs rallied to send the game into overtime.
In the extra session, Calhoun was called for two offensive fouls in the final two minutes after leading 68-66, with Kory Mincy scoring Tri-Cities' final four points.
Simeon Cottle led the Bulldogs (22-5) with 32 points, with Mincy adding 16. Peyton Law paced Calhoun (22-7) with 22 points, followed by Dylan Faulkner with 21
Law's jumper with 54 seconds left in the third quarter gave Calhoun a 51-41 lead, but Cottle — the leading scorer in AAAAA — generated six consecutive points to key a 8-2 run to close the period. The teams traded the lead four times in the final quarter, with Calhoun getting the last chance, but Emaree Winston's fadeaway shot at the buzzer in regulation fell off to send the game to overtime.
Calhoun scored the first four points in the extra session, but scored only once more in the final three minutes.
Heritage 2, Gordon Lee 1: At AT&T Field, Landon Skeen limited the Trojans to one earned run and struck out four batters in five innings to earn the win, with Cannon Stafford going 2-for-2 and Max Owens driving in a run for the Generals (5-2). Garren Ramey had two hits for Gordon Lee.
Ringgold 3, Dalton 2: At AT&T Field, Brady Hermann had a two-run triple in the fifth inning and Sebastian Haggard earned the pitching win by going four innings and allowing two hits while striking out five.
Rome 4, LFO 3: Reece Fountain had three RBIs for the winning Wolves. Eli Walker had two hits and Tanner Mantooth and Will Carroll RBIs for Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
Calhoun 4, Ola 3: At Tift County, the Yellow Jackets (10-2) scored four runs in the seventh inning, with Cohen Chadwick and Ripken West getting RBIs.
Metter 4, Calhoun 3: At Tift County, Jacob Tolson went 2-for-4 and C.J. Hawkins, Andrew Purdy and Jake Slaughter had RBIs for Calhoun.
LaFayette 2, Darlington 0: Kendall Culbreth allowed two hits and struck out four in six innings to earn the pitching win, with Nick Radtke getting the save with a perfect seventh. Skylar Cepeda and James Wathen had RBIs.
LaFayette 17, Trion 2: At Darlington, Hunter Jefferies had three RBIs, with Zain Smith and Skyler Cepeda knocking in two runs each for the Ramblers (4-7).
Roundup reports compiled by Patrick MacCoon and Lindsey Young. Contact them at email@example.com.