By Thomas Sellers Jr.
ARLINGTON — Coming down to the final seconds with the score tied at 43-43, Bartlett Lady Panthers Head Coach Lynn Whitfield was going to set up a play for her star player Charity Savage.
All those in attendance in the Arlington Gymnasium watching the Region 7-3A Girls Basketball Tournament Semifinal contest was fully aware the play would go to Savage. The opposing Munford Lady Cougars and their Head Coach Steve Poindexter tried to get the double-team over in time.
But Savage made a clean catch of the basketball in the low block.
The senior heading to Middle Tennessee State made her move and launched a fade-away jumper. The ball bounced on the rim with 3 seconds remaining on the clock.
After a few bounces, the ball finally fell through the net as the buzzer sounded. The Lady Panthers were victorious 45-43 and the Munford Lady Cougars’ 2015-16 season was over with a 19-12 record.
“It felt so great,” Savage said. “The ball was going to me the whole time into the post. I had to score, I have to shoot it — something has to happen within 7 seconds or we’re going to overtime. It took up the whole 3 seconds.
“I was speechless,” she continued. “It means a whole lot because I want to go back to State. We went last year and we really want to get back.”
The showdown between the Lady Cougars and Lady Panthers was close throughout with Bartlett leading 14-12 in the first quarter. The Lady Panthers were ahead 23-19 at halftime.
Bartlett managed to maintain the advantage throughout the third quarter taking a 32-31 lead into the fourth. The Lady Panthers built a 37-31 advantage early in the final quarter when Savage hit a jumper.
Lady Cougar standout Johnna Jones led her team back with a layup and three-pointer to make the score 37-36.
Moments later the game was tied at 38-38 when Savage made a move in the post for a bucket.
Trailing 41-38, Munford guard Shania Johnson stepped up with a jumper making the tally 41-40. After Bartlett went ahead 43-40, Johnson nailed a baseline three-pointer to deadlock the game at 43-43.
The Lady Panthers had the ball with 21.5 seconds remaining on the clock. After dribbling the clock down to about 7 seconds, the ball went inside to Savage for the game-winning shot.
The Lady Cougars close out the 2015-16 season as District 13-3A regular-season and tournament champions. Munford will graduate All-Academic senior Kyla Taylor from this year’s team. Returning will be now regulars Jones, Johnson, Deja Potter, De’Asha Banks and Gabby Crawford.
“They’ve learned throughout the year,” Poindexter said of his team. “If they’re committed to playing defense, that they going to be in the ball game and have a chance to win. I think for the most part we played pretty good defense. It wasn’t terrible defense. There were some plays I’d like to have back, some mistakes we made.”
Munford was one win away from a shot at playing for a berth in the 2016 Class 3A Girls State Basketball Tournament. With a strong corps, scheduled to return, Poindexter said he hopes the heartbreaking defeat will only strengthen his team’s chemistry and toughness for next season.
“Overall I’m going to think about this group were we where when the year started and how much improvement we’ve seen throughout the year,” he concluded. “They’re going to be sick right now but when they get a chance to look back and reflect, they’ll see they’ve come a long way and they’ve accomplished some things. Hopefully this will eat at them and drive them into the next season to where expectations are going to be pretty high.”
The Lady Panthers left the court on an emotion high. Bartlett advanced to Wednesday night’s championship game against Dyer County. And the Lady Panthers have earned a spot in Saturday’s Sub-State round. Savage said Bartlett’s mental approach for the rest of the season was simple.
“Same way, don’t give up and down bow down to pressure,” she concluded. “I have to keep my head straight.”