By WAYNE PHILLIPS
Sports Editor Emeritus
GREENEVILLE - Two teams that haven't played each other since the "Final Four" of the 2001 TSSAA State Tournament will lock horns tonight in the championship game of the 24th annual Landair Ladies' Classic.
Undefeated Murfreesboro Oakland (13-0) will take on Morristown West (10-5) in the championship tilt at 7:30 today after both schools won thrillers on Friday in the tourney semifinals.
Oakland edged past Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK) 42-39, while the Trojans got past Rockcastle County (Ky.) 53-46.
The meeting with Oakland is special for West Coach Johnny Galyon, who painfully remembers the last meeting in 2001 with the Patriots.
"It was in the Final 4 of the state tourney, and we had a five-point lead on them late and lost the game, and I'm still kicking myself over that," Galyon smiled. "Maybe we can get some revenge."
The fact that the Lady Trojans are in the title tilt of the popular Ladies' Classic means a lot to the Morristown West program, Galyon said.
"It's huge," he said. "Maybe because people have overlooked us a bit this year. But we're an established program with eight sub-state trips in the past 14 or 15 years. But people remember what you've done lately. So I think this group can put us back on the map, so to speak."
As for Oakland, Coach Jennifer Grandstaff was happy to get past CAK and into the championship.
"I thought we held our composure tonight," she said. "There were lots of momentum changes and we stayed focused and were able to overcome the runs they made."
West was leading by only 39-38 entering the final quarter, and the contest was nip-and-tuck down to the final minute. Freshman point guard Abby Craine scored 16 points while Jenna Potts came off the bench to toss in 13. Jecca Simerly had 11 rebounds.
But Galyon was particularly pleased with the defensive effort against Rockcastle's nifty guard Michaela Hunter, who was the focus of a special defense all night.
"Their No. 5 (Hunter) is a player, maybe the best in this tournament," Galyon said. "We had to do some things we normally don't do. She was wearing us out in the first quarter. We went to a diamond at times and a box at times and chased her. There wasn't just one that was on her, but she still played well."
Hunter had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and she flirted with a triple-double as she dished out seven assists.
The Trojans were up by only 39-37 after three quarters after leading by as many as eight midway of the quarter. But they recovered down the stretch, outscoring the Lady Rockets (10-3) by a 14-9 margin in the fourth and held on for the victory.
Oakland's game with CAK (8-3) was just as tight. The Patriots led 32-29 after three quarters in a game that saw six lead changes and five ties. Ellen Riggins led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Kaitlin Oliver scored nine. Kaitlin King had only two points, but her big basket with a tie score (39-39) with 1:25 left might have been the key.
She got behind the CAK defense and caught a nice pass lobbed over 6-6 defender Cheyenne Hooper and banked in the layup to give Oakland a 41-39 lead and they never trailed again.
Oliver made a free throw with 21 seconds to go to make it a 42-39 game, and then Sylvia Barnes missed a one-plus with nine seconds to go that could have iced the contest. A last second shot by CAK's Anna Hammaker to tie and force overtime bounced off the back of the iron.
"It was a designed play," Grandstaff said of the lob to King. "We were worried about it because we had to throw it over that No. 52 (Hooper). But we made a good pass and she (King) answered the call."
Grandstaff said that Hooper's tall frame makes it very hard to run an offense.
"We made some adjustments because we knew there weren't going to be many points in the paint tonight," she smiled.
Kaycee Heitzman had 16 points to lead CAK.