By Lori Cathey
The Lady Pioneers seniors accomplished a 13-year dream by bring the TSSAA BlueCross State Championships Class A gold ball back to Gibson County High School by defeating the Loretto Lady Mustangs 50-42 Saturday night at MTSU in Murfreesboro.
“In all my years of coaching, I have never had a group of players that work so hard and would do whatever I ask,” said head coach Mitch Wilkins. I have been truly blessed to coach the young ladies of such great character.”
Four GCHS seniors, Ashton Lannom, Hannah Ball, KJ White and McKinley Burkett, were named to the All-Tournament Team. The GCHS cheerleaders were also rewarded, winning the Spirit Award. Cheerleaders are Chloe Hassell, Sydney Yochum ,Alaina Eddlemon, Savanna Ramsey, Hailey Jeppesen, Ise Cooper, Sierra Lee, Hayden Mercer, Jaeda Hampton, Hannah Qualls, Sunny Green, Kiara Harris, Shay Turner, Aaliyah Bailey and Madison Fussell.
The Lady Pioneers came out flat in the first quarter, and Loretto went on 6-0 run. The Lady Pioneers got on the scoreboard on an inbounds play with Alaina Hunt hitting a lay-up to make it 6-2. GCHS senior KJ White made a lay-up, and Ashton Lannom made a three-pointer from the left wing to make it 10-7 Loretto. Kensey Weathers made a pull-up jumper to end the quarter with Loretto leading 12-7.
The Lady Pioneers continued to battle in the second quarter, with White making a pull-up jumper followed by a three from Annie Bass. Lannom made back-to-back three-pointers to make it 18-16 with 2:40 left in the quarter. Loretto’s Karly Weathers hit a three-pointer with four seconds left to give the Lady Mustangs a 21-18 lead at the half.
The third quarter was full of action with the score tied four times and three lead changes. The Lady Pioneers played with great intensity and determination. Bass hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 21-all. KJ White made a jumper, and Bass hit her second three to give Gibson Co. a 26-23 lead. The game was tied at 28-all when McKinley Burkett went up strong for a lay-up to make it 30-28 with 1:50 in the quarter. Karly Weathers made a three with 41 seconds remaining. With only seconds left, the Lady Pioneers went for the last shot, which rolled out, but Ball grabbed the rebound and went back up for a basket at the buzzer to give Gibson Co. a 32-31 lead.
The Lady Pioneers started the quarter with Ball making a lay-up followed by a jumper and lay-up by White to take a 38-36 lead. Karly Weathers tied the game at 38-all with a jumper. Twenty-two seconds later, made a lay-up to give the Lady Pioneers a 40-38 lead that they would never relinquish. For the remaining 2:30 of the game, the Lady Pioneers were fouled. Kaci Sweatt and Ball both were 2-for-2 from the free throw line, and Lannom was 6-of-6 for the win.
The Lady Pioneers hit 17 of 37 from the field (45.9 percent), 6 of 10 from three-point range (60 percent), and 10 of 10 from the foul line (100 percent). Gibson Co. forced 10 turnovers and had 25 rebounds. Ashton Lannom led the Lady Pioneers with 15 points and five assists. KJ White finished with 12 points, and Annie Bass had 9 points with three rebounds. Hannah Ball added eight points with four rebounds. McKinley Burkett, Alaina Hunt and Kaci Sweatt each had two points.
The Lady Pioneers played as a team and battled all way through the state tournament. They never gave up on their dream right down to the final buzzer. KJ White said it best about this group of players, “We don’t play for ourselves; we play for the team.”
The Lady Pioneers finished the season with a 35-3 record.
Around 500 supporters greeted the Lady Pioneers Sunday afternoon at GCHS to celebrate in their state championship.