By Noah McKay
MURFREESBORO – The Cookeville Lady Cavaliers advanced to the semifinal round of the class 4A state tournament with a dramatic 53-51 win over Blackman on Wednesday at the Murphy Center.
Cookeville started red-hot from the field and relied on strong defense in the second half to advance for the second straight season.
“What a battle,” said CHS head coach Jamie Gillies. “Blackman is a really good team. We knew it was going to be four quarters. We were ready. The environment was so loud in there which was a good problem to have.”
The Lady Cavaliers raced out to an 8-2 lead after threes by Cassie Gallagher and Allie Gillies. The two 4A powerhouses were not affected by the Murphy Center’s size as each offense found a rhythm early. Gallagher scored eight points in the quarter as the Lady Cavs took a 20-17 lead into the second frame.
“I just had to tell myself ‘just come in here and play your game’,” said Allie Gillies on her strong start from the field. “Just play the game.”
Cookeville opened up a six-point lead on another three by Allie Gillies, but the Lady Blaze answered with a 10-0 run to take a 31-27 lead into halftime.
The Lady Cavalier offense came back to life in the third quarter as they went on a 7-0 run to take a 34-31 lead midway through the frame. Purdue signee Emily Monson buried a three in the final seconds to give the Lady Blaze a 39-36 lead after three.
Allie Gillies buried another three to tie the game at 39 early in the fourth, then, following a BHS technical foul, Gallagher cashed in on two free throws to give CHS a 41-39 lead. Each team traded buckets and free throws for the next several minutes, with Cassie Gallagher converting two free throws with 48 seconds remaining to give CHS a 52-51 lead. Blackman then turned the ball over, but regained possession with 22 seconds remaining following a jump ball. The CHS defense then forced a missed-three with 5 seconds remaining. Gallagher then tallied one more free throw as the Lady Cavs secured the 53-51 victory.
Gallagher led the way for CHS with 22 points including 8-9 at the free throw line. Allie Gillies tallied 14 points. Isabel Garcia shot 100% from the field enroute to 12 points. Jordan Gillies tallied three points and eight assists. Macy Hudson scored two points.
“(Gallagher’s) been clutch all postseason,” said coach Gillies. “She has made big plays when we’ve needed them. I trust her and Jordan (as seniors).”
Cookeville opened the season losing at Blackman 63-37. They defeated the Lady Blaze 41-37 in Cookeville in January, but the Lady Blaze were playing without Kaelyn Flowers.
“(The first game) was embarrassing,” said Gillies. “For our kids to come back and to beat them at home, but they didn’t have Flowers, so was it a fluke or are we really that good? We came back in the postseason, and we are that good. We’re good enough to be here.”
The Lady Cavaliers (31-4) will take on Bradley Central (32-1) on Friday in the semifinal round. In coach Gillies’ six years at CHS, Bradley Central has eliminated the Lady Cavs from the postseason twice, both at Bradley Central.
“I’m excited to play them on a neutral floor,” said Gillies. “I think it’ll be a battle. I’m glad we have a day off before we have to play them on Friday. I think it’ll be a good game.”
Tipoff between the Lady Cavs and Bearettes is set for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Murphy Center.
Highlights by Rusty Ellis, Presented by Steel Technologies
Photos by Michael Lindsay