BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Northview Academy girls’ basketball coach Brooke Shelley has spent countless hours with her players through the current season and those in the past.
So when she noticed something amiss prior to the Cougars’ Class AA state semifinal Friday, she tried to address it.
“I guess we came out a little nervous. I told the coaches in warmups that we seemed a little bit tense — being on a stage we’d never been on,” she said.
But no matter what was said from a sideline or timeout huddle in the first half, Northview couldn’t shake free from its funk against Macon County.
And Macon County sprinted to a big lead early and showed its mettle at the line down the stretch to stave off a rally by Northview Academy in a 73-59 win.
Macon County will take on Grainger at 2 p.m. Central time on Saturday in the championship game.
As for Northview Academy (33-2), it had its 30-game win streak come to an end. But what seniors Campbell Penland, Lexi Bates, Sierra Bates, Zareeah Justus and Skylar Jenkins did to lift a program to new heights can’t be measured with just a winning streak.
They took a program in its seventh year of varsity play all the way to its first state tournament, reached the state semifinals and set a new standard for the program going forward.
Those five players all started Friday.
Penland, a Carson Newman signee and a 2,000-point career scorers, finished with 22 points.
Lexi Bates bounced back from a tough quarterfinal performance to post 20 points against Macon County. Justus had 10 rebounds and four assists.
“That’s them. That’s the character of this team,” Shelley said of NVA’s rally late. “There have been multiple times in games when they’ve been in that situation, and this team has the resiliency, grit, determination and the will to win and heart.
“They literally amaze me every day. This senior class has come so far. … This group of seniors set in their mind that we were going to get somewhere we’ve never been. They worked so incredibly hard to get to where they are. I’ve never coached or been a part of a team with the fight this team had.”
And they did fight.
The scouting report, according to Coach Shelley, on Macon County (25-6) was to not let them get to the free-throw line.
“This is the best free-throw shooting team I’ve ever had,” said longtime Macon County coach Larry White.
The Tigers got there and got there often against Northview.
They made 30 of 32 free throws Friday, including a staggering 20-for-22 clip in the fourth quarter when Northview Academy tried like mad to rally.
Macon County led 8-0 early, 29-17 at the break and got up by 16 with 5 minutes, 9 seconds, left to play.
But NVA went on a tear from there, and a Penland layup with 1:55 to go cut the score to 62-55. Freshman guard Reagan Brown made two foul shots for NVA to get it to 65-59 with 1:07 remaining.
Macon County went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minute.
While Northview’s five seniors depart following graduation, Shelley will build toward future postseason runs behind Brown and 6-1 post Josie Horner.
“I learned a lot from them. They taught me to never give up,” said Horner, who had eight points and four rebounds Friday. “They taught me a lot, and I really enjoyed playing with them.
“And I will never forget them.”
Penland’s last words as a player at Northview were short and simple but packed full of emotion: “I’ve had a great four years at Northview Academy, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s been so fun making friends, making memories, accomplishing so much as a team this year.
“I wouldn’t change anything about it.”