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Lady Cougars toppled by Titans in Richmond

David Gravely/SWT – It wasn’t the trophy they wanted, but the Lady Cougars brought home the VHSL Group 4A runner-up trophy to add to the case.


RICHMOND – Pulaski County was considered the underdog Thursday when they faced off with the Lake Taylor Titans, but despite a lopsided loss the Lady Cougars put in an effort to be proud of and set the tone for the future of the program.

“When you start the season, you want to play as long as you can and you want to eventually play the best,” Lady Cougar Head Coach Bradley Sutphin said. “We just faced the best. There’s a reason they were here, but you know there’s a reason we were here too. These girls earned the right to be here and I couldn’t be prouder of them. We got beat by a very good basketball team, but our girls kept pushing until the end.”

The game started slow for both teams with the first nine touches being a combination of missed layups, turnovers, steals and missed jumpers until Chaniqwa Gilliam hit two free throws at just over six minutes remaining in the first period to break the ice.

It remained sluggish until around the three minute mark of the first, when Lake Taylor led 5-4 but suddenly started to pull away. DeAisjah Somerville hit a three-pointer to move it to 8-4 and suddenly it was 17-6 at the end of the first period.

“They presented us with some problems that no other team we’ve faced this year did,” Sutphin said. “Their length hurt us, no question. They had great hands and it seemed like every time we made a pass or took a shot, they had hands right there. You could really see the experience they had from top to bottom.”

The Titan attack continued in the second period, but the Lady Cougars did start to show some signs of life. Juniors Maddie Ratcliff and Kassidy Secrist connected twice, with Ratcliff sending the ball inside to Secrist for relatively easy baskets each time. Unfortunately, those were the only points for the Lady Cougars in the second period, as they were outscored 13-4 and trailed 30-10 going into the halftime break.

The second half started with a good jumper by Ratcliff, but the Titans answered immediately. Ratcliff earned a steal shortly afterward and sent it to junior Alaina Akers, who was fouled and made good on both free throws. The Titans added a layup, a three-pointer and a free throw before freshman Ally Fleenor hit two free throws to bring the score to 36-16. Jordan Poole hit another Titan three-pointer and Gilliam hit a layup before Fleenor hit two more free throws to end the period with the Titans up 43-18.

“Their length and quick hands caused us some shooting issues, but we also had a tough night shooting,” Sutphin said. “We just couldn’t seem to get the ball to drop most of the time. They had us off our game, no question.”

Lake Taylor went on a six-point run to start the fourth period. Freshman Taryn Blankenship hit a jumper with an assist by Fleenor with just over five minutes remaining, but the Titans hit four layups and two more free throws to lead 59-23 with three minutes remaining. Fleenor hit two more free throws and Akers hit a three-pointer before Gilliam made good on her last jumper of the night. Akers scored the final point of the game on a free throw, leaving the Lady Cougars with the 61-29 loss.

“That was a really good team,” Akers said. “We started the game with an effort that put us behind and we just couldn’t seem to dig out of it. We’re going to learn from this and be better.”

To say that the Lady Cougars had a bad night shooting is an understatement. As a team they only connected on 8 of 50 field goal attempts for 16 percent and 2 of 21 three-point attempts for 9.5 percent. One positive to take away from the game is that Pulaski County hit 11 of 12 free throw attempts for 91.7 percent.

Fleenor found herself in early foul trouble and had to spend some time on the bench in the second period, but finished the game with eight points, 10 rebounds, one assist, two steals and two blocks. Akers was good for nine points, six rebounds and a steal. Secrist added six points and two rebounds. Ratcliff was held to just two points as she attempted to get the ball underneath. She added four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Blankenship scored four points, earned eight rebounds, an assist and a steal. Senior Alicia Noble added a rebound and an assist.

Jazmyn Doster led the Titans with 17 points. Gilliam added 16, Poole scored 13 including three three-pointers. Somerville, Ashanti Barnes and Desire Short added five points each in the win.

Blankenship spent the night trying to guard 6’2” senior Doster. The experience was one she won’t soon forget.

“She was a really good player,” Blankenship said. “She’s strong and she knows how to go to the basket really well. I tried to play in front of her, but there’s a reason she’s seen as one of the best around.’’

“We’re excited about the future of our program,” Sutphin said. “We came up here with five freshmen, six juniors and two seniors. Our JV program had an outstanding season and will boost us in some spots next season. The JV program should stay in good shape and our middle schools should be better as well. I told the girls to take all this in now, because you never know when or if you’ll get back again. I think they felt it and I think they are willing to put in the work to have a shot at making a run again. Either way, I’m proud of them and the season we’ve had.”

Ratcliff, who will now be one of the senior leaders for the 2019-20 Lady Cougar squad, had the final word.

“We’re going to get some rest and catch our breath a little and then get back to work,” she said. “We’ll get our heads back on and recuperate a little and then get back at it. This is not going to be the last time you’ll see us. We will come back. This is not the last you’ve seen of us. We’ll be back.”



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