Gone in 13 seconds

Niethammer, Maryville race away with district crown

Photo with no caption
By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Maybe Allysia Bailey should have missed the free throws.

The Bearden High School senior’s two charity tosses, coming after being fouled by Maryville’s Meredith Niethammer with 14 seconds to play in the third, closed the Lady Bulldogs within six with the quarter waning.

Niethammer, in response, went ballistic.

The Lady Rebel junior took the ensuing inbounds pass coast to coast for a layup, turning and swiping the Bearden inbounds pass in rapid succession. When her second bucket in three seconds slipped through the netting at the third quarter horn, Maryville was a team on fire, the District 4AAA tournament championship game soon theirs, pulling clear of Bearden in the
fourth quarter Tuesday at home for a 63-49 win.

"It’s awesome," said Niethammer of being named the tournament’s most valuable player. "It feels amazing, but the district championship feels 10 times better."

The tournament title completes the double for Maryville, the regular-season champions as well. The Lady Rebels (24-5) will next host West in a quarterfinal region tournament game on Friday at 7 p.m.

The Niethammer burst to close the third was indicative of a Lady Rebel team that answered every Bearden challenge Tuesday. When Bailey’s 3-pointer early in the second quarter edged the Lady Bulldogs out front by three, Sarah Roberts, game-high 21 points, promptly answered for Maryville on the following possession.

Rikki Sanders knocks down back-to-back 3s for Bearden?

Abbie Harper and Bailie Roberts, twice, counter quickly for the Lady Rebels.

All the while, senior Jama Bowman was dominant for Maryville on the glass, pulling off rebound after rebound on the defensive end, limiting the Lady Bulldogs (22-9) to one shot and one shot only.

Bearden’s team speed was a concern entering the contest.

"They were really good at pushing the tempo," Bailie Roberts said.

It was a tactic the Lady Rebels were expecting.

"We watched them the other night against Heritage," Sarah Robert said, "so we knew it would be a fast paced game."

It was quite a turnaround for a Maryville team that had fallen, 64-61, to Bearden in Knoxville last month.

That Maryville team had grown complacent with its seven-game win streak. All season, Lady Rebel coach Kim Bledsoe had relentlessly preached one game at a time, taking no one for granted.

"Before every game, they’re always telling us, ‘The last game is the least important and the next one is the most important,’" Sarah Roberts said.

Tuesday, the Lady Rebels were a team decidedly in the moment.

"I was very pleased with our game tonight," Bledsoe said. "It was complete. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought it as complete.

"With all due credit to (the Lady Bulldogs), they have come on strong. I think it was (the Lady Rebels) determination tonight. Our kids were so determined to what they did, so they did it."

The Lady Bulldogs, who’d won 13 of their last 14 entering Tuesday, were every bit as dangerous as the last meeting. Mary Hirst, Bearden’s 6-foot-1 sophomore center, had a big night inside, pacing the runners-up with 19 points. Sanders, on the strength of her two second-quarter 3s, would add 10.

It’s what the Lady Rebels accomplished in defending Bailey, limiting the Bearden star to nine points, that was telling.

"This time, we really wanted to make sure Bearden didn’t drive to the goal," said Niethammer, who finished with 10 points, seven steals, six assists and four rebounds in securing most valuable player honors.

An Acacia Edmiston 3-pointer helped push Maryville to a 33-29 lead at the half. In the third, capped by the Niethammer strike, the Lady Rebels would show their championship metal. Indicative of a deep, balanced attack Maryville had displayed much of the season, it would come from all sides.

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