BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — A box score might be an antiquated piece of sports information to some. But Thursday, it told the entire story of Bearden’s Class AAA state quarterfinal loss.
Bearden shot 22.4 percent from the floor, 5-for-23 from the 3-point line and 8-for-16 at the foul line.
Hardin County outrebounded the Lady Bulldogs, 43-38, and blocked more shots (11-3).
All the numbers added up to a 48-39 win by Hardin County at MTSU’s Murphy Center, marking Hardin County’s first state-tournament win since 1988.
Bearden (30-2), despite playing one of its worst games of the season, only trailed by five with 1 minute, 32 to seconds to play. But getting one last surge proved hard to come by.
The Lady Bulldogs had a 22-game win streak snapped, as well as all the momentum it built over the second half of the season — from toppling nationally ranked Ensworth on the road in Nashville to Bearden’s own rise to a national ranking.
Hardin County (21-2) simply played a step faster, shot a smidgen better and fought a little harder.
“It was, kind of, a bizarre situation. Like I said earlier, we can usually flip a switch,” said Bearden senior guard Zneyah McLaughlin, who finished with six points on 2-for-9 shooting.
“But, today, the switch … we just couldn’t flip it.”
Even when Bearden got good looks or succeeded getting the ball into the post to its 6-footers, Hardin County countered with Skyler McGill, who set the state record for most blocks in a game with 15 back in 2018.
She had six of Hardin County’s 11 on Thursday. McGill is just 5-foot-10. But crazy athletic.
“That young lady is about as good as I’ve seen in being able to time (her blocks),” said Bearden coach Justin Underwood.
“But I don’t think we helped ourselves. We talked about pump-faking and kicking to the next (shooter). But when (McGill) had her chance, she took advantage and had a huge night on the interior.”
Bearden came out a touch flat from the onset and trailed Hardin County 5-0 in front of a one-sided crowd huddled on one end of the arena to support Hardin County.
Jennifer Sullivan, who scored a team-high 11 points, buried a 3 near the end of the first quarter to give Bearden an 8-7 lead heading into the second quarter. Emily Gonzalez’s free throws for Bearden tied the game at 12-all with 6:03 left in the half, but Hardin County took a 17-16 lead into the break.
Bearden shot just 31.6 percent through 16 minutes and got beat on the boards, 18-12, despite its bigger lineup that included sophomore Avery Treadwell (6-3) and junior Maddie Brillhart (6-1).
That shooting percentage worsened in the third, dropping down to 22.9 percent for Bearden. It trailed 29-23 with a quarter to play as Hardin County banked in a prayer of 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer.
Yet, that fluke of a shot sparked momentum for Hardin County. Reese Harville’s 3 for Hardin County made it 32-23 in the first minute of the fourth. The lead grew to 10 on a 3 by Kimme Callahan with 3:30 to play.
Bearden had one last push and produced a small sip of hope.
A 3 at the top of the key by Sullivan made Bearden’s deficit 41-33 with 1:50 to go. Brillhart’s 3 from the left wing made it 41-36 some 19 seconds later.
But Bearden will head into the offseason steaming over this loss.
Just one starter (McLaughlin) departs.
So they’ll have a chance to redeem themselves next season.
“I think they’ll keep it going,” McLaughlin said of her teammates. “I think they’ll try to uphold the leadership that me and the other seniors tried to put forth this year.
“I think they’ll continue to work hard, and they’ll remember this game — and they won’t want to feel like this again.”