Perfect finish to "love-ly" season
Heart trumped height as Robbinsville rallied from a 9-point deficit to beat Murphy in the Smoky Mountain Conference (SMC) middle school basketball tournament championship, 67-63, Thursday at Swain.
The spirited victory gave the Lady Knights a rare trifecta – undefeated win/loss record (16-0), SMC title and SMC tournament title.
Robbinsville trailed most of the first half, but the Lady Knights answered with determination, hustle, and a quality not often associated with basketball.
“They had a true love for each other. The bond they built was the difference. It just got stronger and stronger during the year,” coach Dennis Crisp said. “You don’t see that very often.”
And you don’t often see shorter, seemingly less athletic team that’s primarily sixth and seventh graders defeat a taller team of eighth graders. Yet that’s exactly what Robbinsville did.
“Murphy had five big girls,” Crisp remarked. “By looking at them you’d say they’d beat us every time.”
Yet Robbinsville twice defeated Murphy, the second time for all the marbles.
“The love our girls have for each other carried them,” Crisp said.
The lead changed nine times in the second half before Robbinsville took the lead for good with 3:04 left to play when Desta Trammell stole the ball and sped downcourt for a lay-up that put the Lady Knights on top 58-55.
A basket, a defensive rebound and two free throws by Gabby Hooper gave Robbinsville a 62-57 advantage with 1:55 remaining.
“Gabby had missed a shot and was hanging her head a little when she came back downcourt and I said, ‘Gabby, I need you to be positive.’ Her head came right back up and she was a beast from then on,” Crisp recalled.
But Murphy kept coming. The Yellow Jackets trimmed the lead to 65-63 with two free throws with :13 on the clock.
Robbinsville nailed the coffin shut when Trammell stepped to the charity stripe and nailed both shots at :10.9.
Robbinsville’s feisty floor general led the winners with 20 points on 5-of-10 accuracy from the field, 7-of-10 free throw shooting, 1-of-2 three-point popping, 5 steals and 4 assists.
Hooper contributed 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Halee Anderson had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 5 steals. Haley Orr made 8-of-15 from the field and 3-of-4 free throws for 19 points to go with 10 rebounds.
All four stars stayed out of foul trouble, which was crucial since all stayed on the floor for most of
the game. Trammell and Hooper played all 28 minutes. Orr and Anderson rested just briefly.
“I knew we could run with them,” Crisp said. “Murphy got tired at the end. I think we outlasted them.”
Aynsley Fink provided a spark off the bench with 2 rebounds, 2 steals and smothering defense in the second half. Ava Barlow, Kennedy Cable and Maddi Ellington also contributed significant minutes.
Murphy roared to an 11-4 lead with two inside baskets, a pair of three-pointers and a steal that prompted Crisp to call timeout with 3:35 left in the first period.
Robbinsville responded by outscoring the taller Yellow Jackets 11-5 the rest of the period. Ten of those points came from Trammell (6) and Anderson (4).
The Lady Knights pulled ahead on Trammell’s bold lay-up with 3:24 on the second-quarter clock.
The lead lasted all of :28. Robbinsville turnovers helped Murphy roar ahead 28-19, but the Lady Knights broke a 3:21 dry spell when Trammell sliced through the defense and zipped a pass to Hooper, who calmly drained a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Robbinsville didn’t regain the lead until 2:33 left in the third when Anderson grabbed a missed free throw powered the ball in to give the Lady Knights a 36-35 advantage.
Again, Murphy came back. The Yellow Jackets led 46-41 entering the final act, then pushed the spread to 6 midway through the fourth.
“Going in the fourth, I told our girls, ‘Now is the time to dig down deep into your hearts,’” Crisp said.
While the girls looked within, Crisp put them a triangle-in-two defense to hinder Murphy’s inside game. The ploy worked like a charm.
Orr stepped up with determined baskets at 6:44 and 5:50 and a three-point play at 4:25 that cut the lead to 3.
Robbinsville tied the game with back-to-back buckets by Anderson, her second coming from a daring cross-court pass by Trammell.
Trammell’s steal and lay-up at 3:04 put Robbinsville up for good.