By JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — The Grainger girls’ basketball team had everything it wanted going into the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class AA state championship.
The 3-pointers had started falling.
No foul trouble.
And, most importantly, the Lady Grizzlies had the lead.
“We made a couple runs in the second and third quarters there,” said Grainger coach Rusty Bishop.
But it all went wrong in a flash at MTSU’s Murphy Center, and tournament staple Macon County went on a quick run to regain control and won its first state champion in program history.
Grainger fell, 51-40, in its first title-game appearance, ending the season at 35-4.
“It’s a great year. I don’t know how many teams there are in double-A, but there are a lot of teams that would trade to be in our spot today,” said Bishop.
“I think Dr. Seuss said it best: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.'”
Tori Rutherford led the Lady Grizzlies with 11 points, as her 3-point shots in the third gave Grainger the first wave of momentum in the second half.
She, Lauren Longmire, Matty Tanner and Alia Maloney made the Class AA All-Tournament Team.
But after shooting 63 percent (17-for-27) from the 3-point line in the first two state tournament games, Grainger went 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) against Macon County (26-6).
The Tigerettes pride themselves on ball-handling and free-throw shooting. So when they got up four on Grainger with 4 minutes to play, they milked clock and coaxed Grainger into fouls. After going 30 of 32 at the foul line Friday against Northview, Macon County went 21 of 24 against Grainger.
Macon County had just eight turnovers and out-rebounded Grainger, 22-20.
Grainger led by as many as seven in the first half, constructing a 10-0 run to over come a 12-9 deficit after the first quarter.
Millie Hurst and Audrey Stratton buried 3s during the run after Grainger started 1-for-5 from the perimeter in the first quarter.
Macon County rallied to knot the score at 21-all by the break, despite missing all seven of its 3-point tries in the first 16 minutes. Going 5-for-5 at the foul line and staying active on the boards helped them stay close against a bigger Grainger lineup.
Grainger ramped up its perimeter play for a short spell in the third. Rutherford hit two early in the quarter for a 27-24 lead.
Tanner popped in one from the top of the key for a 33-27 advantage at the 1:00 mark. The Grainger lead was 33-30 heading into the fourth.
“When we started hitting shots, I thought we were going to keep going,” said Tanner. “I thought we were still going to be hot and not fall back off. But, unfortunately, we did.”
Grainger’s lead evaporated in a hurry after Macon County opened the fourth on an 8-0 run in the first 88 seconds of the quarter. The Tigerettes hit two 3s in that span, the only field-goal attempts Macon County logged in the fourth.
After Tanner’s 3 at the 5:26 mark in the fourth that cut it to 40-38, Grainger went scoreless the next five minutes.
The Lady Grizzlies shot just two free throws the entire game.
“We just couldn’t keep them off the free-throw line,” said Bishop. “I know that (free-throw) discrepancy before we started fouling (late) was unbelievable. But that’s what kept them in the ball game.
“The scouting report was to keep them off the free-throw line, and we weren’t very good at that.”