Many of the Tellico Plains girls basketball team’s wins this season have come fairly easy.
They have featured the Lady Bears taking victory by a large margin, often cruising through the second half in blowout fashion.
That wasn’t the case Thursday.
Tellico battled visiting Polk County to overtime, eventually outlasting the Wildkittens 70-67 in one of the regular season’s final games.
“At this time of the season, I think it will benefit us to have played that type of game,” Tellico Plains head girls coach Gary Tucker said. “And we learned that, if you don’t do the things you need to do down the stretch, you lose those leads pretty easily.”
With the Lady Bears (17-3, 7-1 District 4-A) ahead 68-67 with 40 seconds left in overtime, Polk County (10-10, 4-5 District 5-AA) missed a key 3-point attempt that would have pushed it ahead.
Joell Stinnett then connected on an across-the-court pass to Jaden Hollinghead, who was all alone on that side of the floor. Hollinghead finished the play with a layup, helping seal Tellico’s victory.
“I just think it was (the players’) relentless play (that earned the win),” Tucker said. “They just continually attacked offensively. I was glad to see that. And they moved and shared the ball so well.”
The two teams entered the second quarter tied, 15-15, but Tellico was able to pull away to a nine-point, 37-28 lead by halftime.
But Polk County fought back, cutting the deficit to 49-43 heading into the fourth quarter. That same trend stayed taut during the final period of regulation; the Lady Bears held a good lead before the Wildkittens came back to tighten the score.
The Wildkittens made it a two-point game, 65-63, on a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left on the clock. They then hit a layup off of an inbounds pass, tying the game with just five seconds remaining.
Tellico’s winning-shot attempt missed, sending the contest into regulation.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Tucker said. “Defensively, we’ve got to get a little bit better and continue to just be aggressive on the offensive end. And just be ready every day, focused.”
Hollinghead led the Lady Bears with 18 points. Kori Hamilton was second on the team with 17.
Tellico Plains boys 74, Polk County 70
Dale Rinehart is no stranger to making impacts.
Also a former veteran quarterback for the Tellico Plains football team, the senior’s absence was felt by the basketball Bears when he sat out the first part of the season due to an injury sustained on the gridiron.
That impact was reversed for the better on Thursday, as Rinehart paced the Bears with 24 points en route to their 74-70 win over Polk County.
“(My players have) played hard all year,” Tellico Plains head boys coach David Tucker said. “And we just haven’t made any shots. That’s probably the most points we’ve scored all year. I knew, once we started offensing it a little bit, we would be pretty good. And tonight, we played pretty good …”
Rinehart did a lot of dirty work inside, battling for six two-point makes to go with two 3-pointers.
Tellico led 17-16 at the end of a back-and-forth first quarter. Polk County took the lead at a point in the second period, but the Bears regained the advantage on a Rinehart and-one with 1:30 remaining in the half.
The Bears held a 39-33 lead heading into halftime, then took it to double-digits in the third quarter before the Wildcats cut it back down to 55-52 to end the period.
Ahead 69-66 with 1:20 remaining, Major Carter went one-for-two at the free throw line to push the Bears’ lead to 70-66. After a Polk County two-pointer, Carter again went one-for-two at the line.
The Wildcats followed it up with another two-point make, but this time, Carter connected on both free throws with just 10 seconds left. A steal and one-for-two trip at the line by Jace Lynn finished up the game for the Bears.
“Our point guard, Major (Carter), he never did lose his cool,” Tucker said. “Then, we had a couple of defensive plays by two of the kids. We shot the free throws well at the end. It was just an overall great effort.”
Rinehart was the Bears’ leading scorer, followed by Evan Harris with 15 points.