By PATRICK MacCOON
Picked to finish fifth in District 5-AAA in the preseason, the Lady Raiders of Cleveland have been this year’s surprise team.
After East Hamilton sensation Madison Hayes knocked them off the year before on a buzzer-beating bank shot, Cleveland halted the junior guard this time on the road in critical moments.
With two chances to win the game on a last second shot, one possession in which the Lady Hurricanes held the ball for over a minute, it was freshman Kara Williams who ripped the ball for a steal to force an extra four minutes.
Nearly déjà vu, sophomore Lady Raider guard Bailey Anderson hit the back end of her trip to the free-throw line for a 49-48 lead with 6.2 seconds left in overtime. Anderson followed by keeping a hand in Hayes’ face to force a miss at the final buzzer to help beat Class AAA’s sixth-ranked team.
“The kids showed tremendous toughness,” CHS head coach Tony Williams said. “We didn’t lead at any point until late in the fourth and we fell behind in overtime. We just kept making plays. Our girls refused to let Hayes to the rim.”
With a hold of the district’s No. 2 seed for now, which will only remain if the Lady Hurricanes lose to either Ooltewah (Friday) or McMinn County (Monday), a thrilling finish featured plenty “ice in the veins.”
While senior Caitlin Reed sank a pair of free throws to cut East Hamilton’s lead to 29-26 with 1:30 left in the third quarter, the deficit would grow to eight.
However, the hero from Tuesday night’s home win over McMinn County added to a memorable week of basketball for the Lady Raiders (15-10, 8-4 5-AAA).
Senior center Emma Flowers took over in the fourth quarter to scored 12 of her 15 points, as she went 5-of-6 from the floor and 2-of-2 from the line in the final eight.
Flowers was able to hit fade away baseline shots with defenders draped on her and used the glass to perfection as well.
“I was going up strong and trying not to avoid the contact,” said Flowers, who hit a game-winning free throw earlier in the week. “We worked the ball inside-out and I give my guards a ton of credit. Once we got the chemistry going, everything fell into place.”
The 6-foot-1 standout, who will play college volleyball for Lincoln Memorial University, brought Cleveland all the way back with a tough make from directly underneath the basket to tie things at 40-all with 2:16 left.
Joy Douglass gave the Lady Raiders its first lead with 1:48 left, but an offensive put back by Kaiyanna Suttles sent things to overtime tied 42-all.
Adding to Madison Dasher’s already long list of “clutch” 3-point makes this season, the junior sharpshooter remained calm, collected and with a spot-on shot from long-range late.
Several feet behind the arc in front of her sideline and coach, Dasher drained from deep to make for a 48-all tie with 30.7 seconds remaining. She finished with a share of the team lead with 15 points and four threes.
“I have to give God the glory,” said Dasher, who is averaging 3.5 3-pointers per road game. “I am glad to have been able to make some big shots for the team this year. We all have worked really hard and been pushed to get the most out of ourselves. It’s been a lot of fun.”
An errant pass by East Hamilton flew out of bounds near midcourt with 8.9 seconds left.
The Lady Raiders took a timeout and knew exactly what to draw up.
“We knew we were going to get a matchup on the sideline where Bailey was going to get a run out,” Williams said. “Sure enough she got free and got to the line. After she missed the first free throw, we took another timeout and just told her we love you and we know you are going to make it.”
Hayes finished with a game-high 19 points and added a trio of threes for the Lady Hurricanes (21-4, 6-4 5-AAA).
Cleveland, who is now 5-1 on the road in district battles, received eight points from Reed in a special victory to cap a wild week of basketball.
“We have really shown who we are this week,” Flowers said. “We have proven that we aren’t the Cleveland they thought we were. I feel like we are still underrated and have something still to prove. We can still get even better.”
Williams after the game directed his team to go show support for EH point guard Maleiah Moon (6 points, 4 assists), who had suffered a knee injury.
Kara Williams finished with five assists, three points and a pair of steals.
“We honor God first,” Williams said. “I have a plaque in my office that says Raiders honor HIM. We give Him all the glory for this week. He is the one who gives us the gifts to go out and do what we love to do.”
The Lady Raiders will travel to Bearden to finish the regular season next Monday.
Cleveland;11;8;7;16;7 — 49
East Hamilton;16;10;8;8;6 — 48
LADY RAIDES (49): Emma Flowers 15, Madison Dasher 15, Caitlin Reed 8, Douglass 4, Anderson 4, Williams 3, Franklin, Langford, Callahan, Droke.
LADY HURRICANES (48): Madison Hayes 19, DeZah Lacy 13, Kaiyanna Suttles 7, Moon 6, Zeh 3. Abernathy, Laboo.
3-Pointers: CHS 5 (Dasher 4, Williams); EH 9 (Hayes 3, Lacy 3, Moon 2, Zeh)
Free Throws: CHS 11-of-17; EH 7-of-10
Records: Cleveland 15-10, 8-4 District 5-AAA; East Hamilton 21-4, 6-4 5-AAA.
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