The Elizabethton girls basketball team did not take any solace in getting the program back to the state tournament for the first time since 2016.
Wednesday’s 59-42 loss in the first round of the Class 3A State Tournament hurt, but it was also motivating.
The Lady Cyclones don’t want to experience that feeling again, and they walked out of the Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University determined to do whatever it takes to leave with a gold ball next year.
“On the days that I feel tired, or the days that I don’t want to be in the gym, I’m going to think about how I feel right now,” Elizabethton junior Renna Lane said. “I never want to feel like this again.”
Elizabethton will not graduate a single player from this year’s state tournament team, and Head Coach Lucas Andrews hopes that this experience in Murfreesboro will pay dividends down the road.
“As a coaching staff we are going to make sure that we do what we need to do the get these girls back here,” Andrews said. “We are going to schedule so that we are prepared for big games like this, but experience here is huge.”
“(Upperman) has upperclassmen that have played on this floor. You could tell they felt comfortable. As a coach, you try to figure out what is the best way to get down here, and what is the best way to prepare. So we can take everything from this trip and learn from it, and hopefully do better next year.”
The morning started with Olivia Holly nailing a three-pointer from the top of the key for the Lady Cyclones, but then Upperman scored the next 10 points to take control of the contest.
Abigail Johnson scored four of those points from the block, and Elizabethton never could figure out how to slow down the powerful Lady Bees’ center on Wednesday.
Johnson led all scorers with 24 points and also grabbed seven rebounds.
“She’s a 1,000 point scorer for a reason,” Andrews said. “On almost every set they have, they have some sort of action for her. And when she gets you deep she is probably going to score.”
Elizabethton was able to narrow the gap to 11-8 after Lane put her down and drove through traffic for two points and she followed it with a triple from the left wing.
But Upperman pulled away again and finished the first quarter leading 20-12.
The Lady Bees started the second quarter on a 9-0 run in which Chattanooga signee Brooklyn Crouch slashed to the basket for four of those points.
On the other end of the floor, Elizabethton could not figure out how to penetrate Upperman’s defense and went scoreless for the first 5:10 of the quarter.
Holly broke that streak with a three-pointer after Marlee Mathena delivered the ball to her from the paint, but Elizabethton trailed 31-17 at halftime.
Johnson scored Upperman’s first seven points of the second half while Elizabethton also found some success in the post with Mathena and Katie Lee finding the bottom of the net, but the Lady Bees lead grew to 38-23.
Crouch then sank a trey for Upperman and Johnson finished the period with an old-fashioned-three-point play.
Lina Lyon got going for the Lady Cyclones with a pair of runners over the final three minutes of third quarter, but the Lady Bees lead grew to 44-27.
Elizabethon refused to go down easy and it started the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run that closed the gap to 46-36. Lyons dropped in two runners in the lane and Lane knocked down a three-pointer from beyond the left elbow.
Lyon led Elizabethton on Wednesday with 14 points, and eight of them came in final 11 minutes.
With 3:28 remaining Elizabethton’s Reiley Whitson knocked down a three-pointer from deep in the corner to cut the Lady Bees’ lead to 48-39.
From there the Lady Bees again locked down on defense led by Crouch. On offense they pulled away at the foul line, going 6-for-6 in a 1:15 stretch that stretched the lead to 55-39.
After a steal by Lyons Whitson was able to hit from behind the arc again, but the Cyclones were not able to challenge the lead.
Lane was also in double figures for Elizabethton with 10 points.
Holly and Whitson finished with six points apiece.
Crouch finished the day with 15 points, six rebounds, and eight assists for Upperman. Jayla Cobb was also in double figures with 12 points.