BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Scott West could do nothing but embrace seniors Gracie Midkiff and Aaliyah Vanada as they walked off the Murphy Center floor with 1 minute, 14 seconds to go in Maryville’s Class AAA semifinal Friday.
They and Miss Basketball finalist Denae Fritz, who had fouled out shortly before, had taken the program to unchartered waters this season.
So a hug and consolatory words were the least West, the head coach, could give back.
“I’m just saying (to them), ‘I feel your pain,'” said West. “‘This will turn. It might be a week. It might be a month. But I guarantee you, you’re never going to forget this.’
“I know I won’t.”
Maryville’s loss to Blackman on Friday night at MTSU’s Murphy Center certainly won’t be palatable for a long time.
Maybe not ever to those involved.
The hometown Blaze used a second-half, 17-0 run to rally past Maryville, post a 54-44 win and advance to Saturday’s Class AAA championship against Lebanon.
Maryville (26-7) led 32-26 late in the third and Blackman’s best player, Vanderbilt signee Iyana Moore, sat on the bench with four fouls.
But in a gutsy move, Blackman coach Jennifer Grandstaff reinserted Moore with a couple minutes left in the third quarter, and Moore made Grandstaff look like a genius.
She popped in a 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the third that triggered a game-deciding, 17-0 spurt that sent Maryville reeling for a spell. Blackman closed the third quarter with Moore’s 3 and treys by two Victoria Page — the last of which came at the buzzer.
“They made some really tough shots, and two of them were really tough,” West said of Blackman’s late third-quarter 3s. “Moore is a really nice player. We lost our composure there with turnover, turnover and, I believe, turnover. Maybe a quick shot in there, too.
“A six-point lead evaporated quickly.”
Moore fouled out at the 4:44 mark in the fourth, her team leading 43-33. That’s when Maryville got back up off the mat. Fritz made a jumper and Midkiff consecutive layups to cut the deficit to just four points with 3:07 to go.
But then Fritz fouled out with 2:23 remaining and the Lady Rebels couldn’t finish off the fight. She finished with 15 points. Vananda had 12 and Midkiff seven.
Maryville’s seniors led the program to its first state-tournament win in 98 years on Thursday night.
Fritz will find out Saturday night whether she is named Miss Basketball in Class AAA. She would be the first in program history.
“I think she’s the best player that’s ever played at Maryville High School,” said West. “That’s without question.
“And she’s one of the best one or two who’s ever played in Blount County — one of the best (players) in the state. … Her legacy speaks for itself.”