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Postseason Pressure Cooker

Johnson bucket ignites Lady Mountaineer winning burst

Heritage sophomore Kassi Knight is marked by Maryville’s Leila Bangash on Wednesday. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Lady Mountaineer sophomore Leah Thomas takes aim from the free-throw line in the closing minutes.

Threes are nice, but the free-throw line is closer.

Jordan Johnson took the ball all the way to the basket to tie the score with three minutes remaining Wednesday night.

Heritage cheerleader Ashley Weimer takes in the pressure-packed final seconds Wednesday.

Kassi Knight and Leah Thomas followed with jumpers from just below the foul line, and host Heritage opened a decisive gap in a 43-38 win over Maryville in a District 4AAA elimination game.

A pair of losses to the Lady Rebels during the regular season only enhanced the pressure of the closing minutes, Johnson, a junior, said.

“We were all feeling it,” she said. “We wanted to win really, really bad.”

The Lady Mountaineers, along with an automatic region tournament berth, advance to meet second-seeded Bearden in a Friday semifinal at 6 p.m. William Blount, a 47-34 winner over Lenoir on Tuesday, meets top-seed Farragut in the preceding semifinal at 4:30.

“We haven’t been to the region in a couple of years,” Heritage coach Rick Howard said, “so that makes it really special.”

The championship game is scheduled for Monday at 7:30.

Knight, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, finished with a game-high 17 points, including a 3-pointer. Thomas, a 5-9 sophomore guard, joined Knight in double figures with 10, eight of them coming in the final quarter.

“I was proud of how my two sophomores stepped up in the second half,” Howard said.

Leila Bangash paced Maryville with 14, with 3-point sharpshooter Olivia Spears swishing the netting for 10.

Little separated the two rivals through three quarters, the Lady Rebels holding leads of 9-8 after one, 17-12 at the half and 26-24 to start the fourth. Sophomore guard Kayla Tillie drove the lane and found freshman Paxton Robinette at the basket for a 33-28 Maryville lead with just under five minutes left.

As the possibility of elimination climbed, “We never got down,” Knight said.

Heritage trimmed the deficit to one on free throws from Thomas and Johnson at the four-minute mark. After a Tillie free throw, Johnson motored down the right side of the lane to tie the score.

The Lady Mountaineers celebrate the return to the region tournament.

“We couldn’t hit our threes,” Johnson said, “so we decided we should take it inside more. I just saw it and said, ‘Oh, I need to take that.’”

The Lady Mountaineers took the lead for good on back-to-back jumpers from Knight and Thomas in the lane.

“They were leaving the middle open and jump shots were just there,” Thomas said

Heritage went 4-of-6 from the line inside the final 30 seconds to secure the region tournament berth.

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