The Lady Rebels came out smoking in the first half Saturday and, thanks in part to the rip-net shooting of Alex Harris, never let Unicoi County get back in their 71-54 District 1-AA girls basketball tournament semifinal victory at Bayless Gym.
Earning a rare berth in the district championship game — thought to be the first such appearance in school history — South (19-10) reached Monday’s championship game against Elizabethton (9-21) at 7:30 p.m. The Lady Cyclones defeated top-seeded Sullivan Central for the second time in eight days, earning a convincing 54-34 decision.
South and Elizabethton also earned home-court advantage for Friday’s region quarterfinal contests.
Unicoi, which must travel for the region quarterfinals, plays Sullivan Central for third place at 6 p.m. on Monday.
South coach Terry Hutson said he was very pleased with his team’s first-half performance, which produced a 39-22 lead.
“It’s one of those things you dream for,” Hutson said. “They played good the whole game, but they really played good in the first half. They had a bit of hunger about them, and that was good to see.”
The standout Lady Rebels guard, arguably the best 3-point shooter in Northeast Tennessee, knocked the bottom out of the net seven times from behind the arc and finished with 25 points.
Harris said nerves were part of the pregame equation, but they didn’t stick.
“We were definitely nervous before the game,” she said. “But once the game started, we just played like a team. We came out energized and focused, and we were ready to play.”
SCORING THREE AT A TIME
The teams evenly split 20 3-pointers. Harris paced South while the Lady Blue Devils got three 3s each from Chloe Powers and Caroline Podvin.
Podvin finished with a team-high 19 points.
The Lady Rebels had control in the first half, alternating between drives to the hoop and outside accuracy.
However, South came out a little sluggish in the third quarter and Unicoi closed to within nine. In the fourth quarter, the Lady Blue Devils made another run to get under double digits. But each time, South had an answer, usually in the form of a 3-pointer.
“We told the girls at halftime we can’t panic,” Hutson said. “They’re going to make a run at us. We just had to stay within ourselves and run our stuff, and good things will happen.”
Among the good things was the play of Mollie Leslie, who had 12 points and made 6 of 7 attempts from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.