Not to be taken lightly

Heritage remains team to beat in 4AAA

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Friday’s visit from rival Maryville just got a lot bigger.

Allysia Bailey pumped in a game-high 29 points, and Bearden upset Heritage, 65-56, on Tuesday.

The Lady Mountaineer home loss, coupled with Farragut falling, 55-53, at Maryville on Tuesday, lifts the Lady Rebels atop the District 4AAA standings. Maryville (12-3, 6-1) could take a two-game lead in the race for the regular-season title with a win on Friday. The Lady Mountaineers (15-3, 7-2) have no choice but to rally, Heritage coach Rick Howard said.

"They (the Lady Mountaineers) weren’t focused (Tuesday)," he said. "They weren’t ready to play, and Bearden came in here and smacked them in the mouth. If you take any team in our district lightly, you’re going to get beat."

Bearden (8-7, 2-3) broke to a 12-0 lead before a Morgan Thomas jumper got Heritage on the board midway through the opening quarter. With Bailey pumping in a 3-pointer and 6-foot-1 sophomore Mary Hirst dominant for Bearden around the basket, the Lady Bulldogs led, 19-4, after a quarter.

Heritage caught fire in the second quarter. With Katie Brooks getting to the basket off the drive, Cassie Hearon and Karly Stache popping for a pair of run-sparking 3s, the Lady Mountaineers erased the deficit with a flurry of buckets to close the half.

Hearon fed sophomore Lanie Brimer for a layup with 10 seconds until intermission, and the Lady Mountaineers took their first lead, 28-27, into the locker room.

Bailey keyed an 8-0 Bearden run the first three minutes of the third, including her second of three 3-pointers on the evening. Heritage pulled within 53-50 with 4:36 remaining, only to see Bearden answer with 8-of-10 free-throw shooting down the stretch.

Led by All-State volleyball player Sarah Roberts and 6-foot senior Jama Bowman, the Lady Rebels posses much the same balanced, inside/out attack.

"To me, they’ve got more talent than anybody in the district," Howard said. "You don’t get a night off."

That Heritage, a year after losing Parade All-American Cait McMahan to Tennessee, is again a frontrunner in the district race says much about this season’s Lady Mountaineers. Brooks, a tall, athletic point guard, has developed into a smooth, proven scorer. Hearon, a post player who can extend to 3-point range, may just have the best hands in the district. Stache, whose two second-quarter 3s Tuesday helped bring Heritage back, is as deep a shooter as they come.

"We’ve surprised a lot of people already," Howard said. "We weren’t supposed to be in the hunt. I’ve got to give the kids credit."

In Thomas, the Lady Mountaineers have a young, off-the-dribble jump shooter who, along with junior Emily Newsome, adds depth at guard. Freshman Lauren Burnett, who buried a late 3 Tuesday, is a player to watch. Erica Rose has the size and athleticism to help Hearon beneath the basket.

It’s Hearon, Brooks and Stache, though, who must lead the way into the heart of the district schedule, Howard said.

"This team has a chance, by postseason, to become a better ball club and make a run," he said, "but they’ve got to be more
mature and more focused. You’ve got to show a lot of character from here on out."

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