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Knight, From Deep

Heritage junior shows off some “new stuff” in win over Bearden

HOB_5343Lady Mountaineer junior Leah Thomas, pictured here in a clash with Bearden a year ago, went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half on Friday. Photos by Hobe Brunson

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Kassi Knight was already tough to guard.

Kassi Knight backs down a Bearden defender.

Kassi Knight backs down a Bearden defender.

This isn’t going to help.

The junior center extended to 3-point range to spark a strong Heritage close, and the Lady Mountaineers held off Bearden, 47-42, in an early District 4AAA showdown Friday night at Heritage.

Knight, with representatives from the University of North Carolina-Ashville in town for a look, finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting as the Lady Mountaineers (18-1, 4-1 District 4AAA) moved into second place in the league standing behind frontrunner Farragut (14-1, 5-0).

Maryville (12-3, 4-1), the Lady Bulldogs (13-2, 3-1) and William Blount (9-6, 1-3) round out 4AAA’s top five at the season’s halfway point.

Leah Thomas went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half, 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter, to finish with 10 points and 12 rebounds for Heritage. The way the junior shooting guard got to the charity stripe in the closing minutes proved critical in the game’s outcome.

Bethany Massey had seven boards for Heritage, Knight five, as the Lady Mountaineers owned the glass in the second half with 19 rebounds. Massey delivered an all-league performance in defending Bearden scoring machine Erin Walsh, last season’s player of the year.

Neither team gave an inch the first eight minutes, ending the quarter in a 12-12 tie. Knight swished a jumper from the baseline. Thomas then hit Katie Wolfe with a full-court feed for a layup, and Heritage remained close at the half, trailing 24-18.

The deficit was all but negligible considering what Massey had just done.

The senior forward went to the bench for a breather with a minute remaining in the opening half. On cue, Walsh slipped Massey’s replacement to bury a 3-pointer. In the night’s most telling statistic, it was only Walsh’s fifth point of the half.

“Walsh is a great player,” Heritage coach Rick Howard said. “I tell (Bearden coach) Justin (Underwood) all the time he’s got Erin Walsh, and that makes a difference.

“We knew where she was and tried to keep Bethany on her side because (Massey’s) so long.”

Walsh rallied in the second half to finish with 15, but the first two quarters had been costly.

“I just tried to stay in front of her,” Massey said. “They told me not to help off her, so I didn’t.”

A back-and-forth third quarter settled little, Bearden leading, 34-32, to start the fourth. With the Lady Mountaineers down 36-34 with six minutes left, Knight, with a defender in her face, rose for a 3-pointer far out on the right side that found nothing but netting.

“I just saw the goal,” Knight said. “She was on me, but I saw the goal. I played guard against her all summer, so I had to learn some new stuff.”

Along with a tough night on the offensive end, Walsh battled foul trouble throughout, carrying three personals into the fourth. Thomas took full advantage down the stretch, drawing the fourth and fifth fouls on Walsh on drives to the basket.

“They had so much pressure on the perimeter, all you could do was go (to the basket),” Thomas said.

Walsh was whistled for her fifth with 59 seconds remaining, Thomas following with two free throws for the final margin.

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