KINGSPORT – Bulls Gap overcame foul trouble and a frantic third quarter to earn a hard-fought 50-35 victory over Ridgeview and a berth in the finals of the Section 1 Class A girls basketball tournament Thursday night at John Sevier Middle School.
The Lady Bulldogs will take on defending champion Cloudland for the Section 1 Class A championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at John Sevier Middle School.
For the second game in a row, Bulls Gap played a very strong first half only to be nearly undone in the third quarter.
“I think if we can get the third quarter fixed – we’ve had two bad third quarters, although I thought tonight was more (due to) foul trouble than us – I think we ought to be all right,” said Bulls Gap coach Shawn Bond.
The Lady Bulldogs took a 13-7 first-quarter lead, thanks to a 6-0 run by Emma Houck to close the final :39 of the opening period.
A baseline jumper by Ariel Ferrell and two free throws by Anna Houck extended the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 17-7 and two straight turnovers caused by the Bulls Gap press forced a Ridgeview timeout with 4:42 in the second quarter.
The Lady Raptors responded with a three-point play by Josie Jenkins to cut the lead to 17-10, but Bulls Gap closed the half with a 12-2 run for a commanding 29-12 halftime lead.
Then, like in Tuesday’s semifinal against Lamar, the Lady Bulldogs began throwing the ball away, losing the ball four times in the first minute and a half of the third. To compound the issue, whistles were going against Bulls Gap left and right, as well.
The Lady ‘Dawgs were called for four personal fouls in the first 2:09 of the second half. Halfway into the third quarter, Bulls Gap had been called for seven team fouls (to Ridgeview’s none) and turned the ball over seven times. Emma Houck had to go to the bench with four fouls and the Lady Raptors were already in the bonus with 3:01 to go in the third.
“Emma had one at halftime and picked up three real tacky ones in probably a minute and a half, and we had a couple already in foul trouble,” Bond explained. The Lady Raptors’ press got more effective as Bond had to reach further down the bench.”
By the 1:26 point, Bulls Gap had committed 12 turnovers in the quarter and Ridgeview had closed to within 31-24.
“We had four subs in there with just one starter,” Bond said. “Ridgeview is a good team and they’ve got a pretty good press. Our subs panicked a little bit, but I thought they stepped up when they needed to. We tried subbing Emma in when I had to and told her to just kind of be a statue on defense.”
It worked. She came in and stopped a 2:40 scoreless streak with a drive to put Bulls Gap ahead, 33-24, with 1:17 in the quarter.
After a basket in the post by Ridgeview’s Kyleigh Bacon, Bulls Gap got a big basket off the glass by Brayley Bowlin to extend the Lady Bulldogs’ lead back to nine, 35-26, to close the third quarter.
The two baskets seemed to stem the tide a bit and slow the momentum Ridgeview had built up in the third.
“It kind of calmed us down,” Bond said. “You could feel it kind of slipping in their way. They hit a couple of big ones.”
Another drive by Bacon to start the fourth cut the lead to 35-28, but Bulls Gap got another big basket from the bench when Kasie Bowman hit a baseline jumper to put the Lady Bulldogs back up by nine, 37-28.
Two free throws by Jenkins were answered by a shot in the paint by Anna Houck, lifting Bulls Gap to a 39-30 lead with 4:32 left in the fourth.
With Madi Jones fouled out and three others with four fouls, Bulls Gap tried to run some clock, which nearly backfired. Makynna Perry scored off a turnover and Lille Walters followed with a basket in the post to cut the lead to 39-34 with 2:41 remaining.
Then Emma Houck outshot Kenzie Bacon at the line, 4-of-4 to 1-of-2, to bump the lead to 43-35 with 1:32 left.
After a big play by Bulls Gap’s defense to draw a charge, Kaylee Cinnamon hit a foul shot and Anna Houck converted two straight fast-break layups. Suddenly, Bulls Gap was ahead, 48-35, with 28 seconds to play.
Bulls Gap’s bench and entire lineup contributed to the Lady Bulldogs’ win.
“I thought Madi Jones played much better tonight than she did the other night,” Bond said. “I was on her before the game and told her we needed her to have a big game and she did. She stepped up.
“I thought Ariel (Ferrell) did what she always does. She’s about as consistent as any of them. I thought Kaylee and Brayley, our two other guards, stepped up. Brayley hit a couple of big shots and made a couple of big shots when she needed to,” Bond said.
Bulls Gap forced a Ridgeview turnover on the ensuing possession and after running some clock, Emma Houck ended the game with an exclamation point in the form of a drive to the basket for two and a 50-35 final.
Despite the frantic third and fourth quarter, Bulls Gap ended up losing only two points off its halftime lead.
Emma Houck led Bulls Gap with 20 points. Anna Houck added 13. Jenkins led Ridgeview with 14, while Kyleigh Bacon added 11.
Saturday in the championship, Bulls Gap will meet Cloudland, semifinal winners over Hampton Thursday.
“I know they won it last year,” Bond said. “They’re a pretty good team. They like to do some of the things we do. They like to press everybody to death. I think when the other three handle it and we can get the twins in the middle and I don’t have to use the twins to beat the press, it falls into our favor.
“But they’re a good basketball team. They won it last year. Obviously, if you make it this far, everyone’s pretty good. They’ve got a little bit of a size advantage, but I think we can get ‘em,” Bond said.
“I don’t think we can miss as many easy ones as we did tonight and pull it out. We’re going to have to take care of the ball a little bit better. All you can ask for is a shot, a shot to the final four. I look for Saturday to be a tight game. We’ll see. We’ll put our best effort out there and see what happens,” Bond said.