CHURCH HILL – Bulls Gap made a late comeback after trailing most of the game and held on for a 41-39 victory over Nolachuckey to capture the championship of the TMSAA East Tennessee Area 3 girls basketball tournament Wednesday.
Bulls Gap, the No. 2 seed, fell behind No. 1 seed Nolachuckey, 12-7, in the first quarter, then saw the deficit increase to 19-10 halfway through the second quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs played their regular game of full-court defensive pressure, but had some trouble with Nolachuckey’s size advantage.
The combination of Ava Clark and Ryleigh Gregg inside and the outside shooting of guard Madison Hensley kept Bulls Gap off-balance throughout much of the first half.
Hensley’s fast-break layup with 2:47 left in the second quarter put Nolachuckey ahead, 23-14.
Bulls Gap’s backcourt due of twins Anna and Emma Houck spearheaded a late second-period rally, combining to outscore the Lady Blazers, 7-0, over the next minute to force a Nolachuckey timeout and cut the lead to 23-21.
The first half ended with Nolachuckey holding a 24-23 lead.
After a layup by Clark to start the second half, Anna Houck tied the game at 26-26, for the first time since it was 2-2, with a free throw and a drive.
A three-pointer by Hensley put the Lady Blazers back up by three, but a putback by Anna Houck and a baseline jumper by Ariel Ferrell put Bulls Gap ahead for the first time, 30-29, with 1:14 left.
About 30 seconds later, the game was delayed for about 10 minutes when Anna Houck caught an elbow on her right eye brow.
The quarter ended with Bulls Gap maintaining a one-point lead, 31-30.
A jumper by Brayley Bowlin started the fourth-quarter scoring and extended the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 33-30.
One minute after Anna Houck returned at the 5:17 mark, Hensley hit a layup trimming the lead to 33-32. Forty-five seconds later, Kaylee Cinnamon hit a jumper to put Bulls Gap back ahead by three, 35-32.
After another stop by the Bulls Gap defense, Anna Houck scored on a baseline drive, extending the Lady Dawgs’ lead to its highest of the night, 37-32.
A foul shot by Gregg and put-back by Clark closed the gap to 37-35 with 2:17 to play.
Ferrell then scored on a put-back to push Bulls Gap’s lead back to four, 39-35.
Nolachuckey’s Lindsey Howlett’s first basket of the game, a long jumper with one foot on the three-point line, cut the lead to 39-37 with 1:21 to go.
Nobody scored until Emma Houck sank two free throws with 24 seconds remaining, extending Bulls Gap’s lead back to four, 41-37.
A jumper by Clark with :07 left cut it to 41-39. The Lady Blazers put Anna Houck on the line with :03.6 remaining. She missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Nolachuckey could not get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
Anna and Emma Houck scored 14 points each to lead Bulls Gap. Ferrell added seven.
Hensley led all scorers with 16. Clark added 11 and Gregg seven for Nolachuckey.
Bulls Gap (21-2) will enter the sectional tournament at John Sevier Middle this weekend as Area 3’s No. 1 seed, while Nolachuckey will be Area 3’s No. 2 seed. Surgoinsville, which beat Ottway in the girls consolation game earlier Wednesday, will enter as Area 3’s No. 3 seed, and Ottway will be No. 4. Matchups weren’t available at press time.