The White House girls basketball team has had to wait a long time to clinch a spot in the region tournament - and had to wait a few extra minutes to do so Monday night.
The Lady Devils hosted cross-town rival White House Heritage in the quarterfinal of the District 9-AA tournament and defeated the Lady Patriots 52-49 in overtime.
They got off to a slow start, trailing 21-9 early in the second quarter but closed the half on a 14-5 run to pull within one possession. Senior Alexis Bess kept her team afloat in the first half with three three-pointers.
Heritage’s Nikki Morrell tied the game at 45 with a little over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Both teams’ offenses would stall, and Heritage had an opportunity with 0.7 seconds on the clock to win the game. They inbounded the ball to Kinsley Caruthers, but her shot was short of the rim.
Overtime went quick. The first three possessions took almost two minutes.
White House’s Chloe Hart won the tip and opened the scoring with a corner three right in front of the Lady Devil bench. They held a lead the rest of the way.
No play was called to set up that shot. Hart just felt like she got a decent look and took it.
“I just knew we needed to score, to get up and get going, so I just trusted the shot,” Hart said.
Head coach Kelly Smelcer was thrilled the ball found the net, but had a moment of fear as the junior hoisted the shot up.
“When she shot the shot, my heart sunk a little bit,” Smelcer said. “I didn’t think it was the best shot, but it was clutch… It just seemed like a night of clutch shots both ways.”
On the ensuing Lady Devil possession, they wanted to suck the air out of the ball. After holding the ball for a minute, Hart got a good look at a layup and missed, freshman Marley Hyde was there to put it back up and in to extend the lead to five.
Hyde finished with a game-high 18 points and a number of rebounds. Second-chance points were critical for White House to keep up throughout the game.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete that brings so many different aspects to the game,” Smelcer said. “Rebounding-wise I felt like everybody was phenomenal tonight. We crashed the boards extremely well. She posted well; she finished well… She did everything well tonight.”
The White House defense stepped up when it needed to throughout the game. After a deep Bayleigh Ballard three cut the lead to one, Bess missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Lady Patriots an opportunity to win the game in the final possession once again.
Claire King drove into the lane where three Lady Devils collapsed. Faithe Johnstone swatted the ball away, and senior Alexis Bess made two free throws to put the game away with 0.3 seconds left.
The win advances White House to the Region 5-AA tournament, an achievement that has not happened in the last 12 seasons. Their banner year continues after getting double-digit wins for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.
This was not simply one game. This entire season has built toward this moment for the Lady Devils. A group of seniors, led by Bess, helped develop the rest of the team. Hyde, Hart, Johnstone and Avery Droz have developed their individual games and will have more time to do so beyond this year.
Hart may have never taken that three had it not been for her growth. This could have been a very different story.
“I used to be really timid, but over this season, the seniors really helped me grow and become more comfortable on the court,” Hart said. “It’s really developed me as a player.”
After getting low seeds the past several seasons, they finally won enough games to host a first-round district matchup and face a team they could realistically defeat.
“To put ourselves in a winnable game this year was huge,” Smelcer said. “We came in with that confidence. We kind of peaked at the right time; we’re playing well. This is huge for the girls. They’ve worked so hard; they deserve this. I think they are finally starting to realize they deserve this.”
“We made history for ourselves tonight, and it was all for our seniors,” Hart said. “I mean that’s our goal for the entire season. That’s all they wanted, so that’s what we worked on and that’s what we got.”
Bess will play college ball at Freed-Hardeman University, but to play three more games with her friends in the royal blue means the world.
“It’s so valuable just because even though I’m still going to be playing after this, I’ll never get to play with White House ever again, so it (has) a big part of my heart,” Bess said. “I love my team so much.”
White House has at least three more games left this season and will face top-seeded Westmoreland Tuesday in the District 9-AA semifinal.
“Three more games is huge, especially when you’re a young team, to get this experience,” Smelcer said. “Going to Westmoreland tomorrow night is a great opportunity for us to go play a really good team, to get better and improve. To know that we’re guaranteed two more games beyond Westmoreland is pretty special for the girls and well-deserved.
“They’re all such hard-workers. They’ve all come together as a team, couldn’t ask for a better group of girls.”
Heritage’s season is over. The Lady Patriots finished with a 7-16 record, but they have come a long way since the beginning of the season.
Heritage started the season on a nine-game losing streak, failing to win a single game before the new year.
“Obviously, we could’ve folded right then and there, for sure with the way it started, but we didn’t,” head coach Clay Head said. “We kept a good outlook, and we kept working, working, working, and it finally turned around for us.
“To start off 0-9 and turn it around like we did shows a lot of leadership amongst them, a lot of growth and a lot of heart.”
The Lady Patriots graduate three seniors, Bayleigh Ballard, Kyndal Farmer and Bekah Lamberth.
“They’ve been great,” Head said. They’ve been a model of hard work. They had a strong class ahead of them. They didn’t get to play much through the years. They could’ve given up, quit, walked away, but they didn’t. They kept working.
“Finally, this year was their chance to get out there and do it, and I saw so much growth from them all the way through. It was a pleasure to see them grow and to work.”
White House (52) - Marley Hyde 18, Alexis Bess 11, Avery Droz 8, Chloe Hart 7, Faithe Johnstone 4, Carmen Perkins 4
WH Heritage (49) - Bayleigh Ballard 15, Emily Clifford 9, Nikki Morrell 9, Claire King 7, Bekah Lamberth 4, Kinsley Caruthers 3, Armonie Tolliver 2