Oneida players and coaches celebrate the Lady Indians' Region 2-A quarterfinal win at Tellico Plains on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Sarah Dunlap/Faith Sports Photography)

HARRIMAN — For the first time in 12 years, Oneida’s Lady Indians earned a berth in the Class A sectionals Monday evening, defeating Wartburg 55-41 to advance to the Region 2-A championship game.

The Lady Indians dominated most of the first three quarters of Monday’s game, then withstood a late rally by the Bulldogs to secure the win.

Baylee Thomas had a double-double, with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Sidney Dishman finished with 18 points and Emily Bertram had 13 points.

The Lady Indians jumped to an 8-0 start and never trailed. They led Wartburg by as much as 22 points before the Bulldogs trimmed the lead to just seven points in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Oneida coach Marv West sent each of his seniors to the press area to interview with WBNT broadcaster Tim Smith.

“I want them to enjoy this,” West said. “I was spoiled my first two years as a coach, but these don’t come easy.”

The last time Oneida advanced to the substate — which came with a win over the same Wartburg program in 2005’s Region 2-A semifinals — this year’s Lady Indian seniors were kindergarten students.

The Lady Indians will play their substate game on Saturday, though the opponent and location remained unknown as of Tuesday. That was to have been determined Wednesday, when Oneida faced Meigs County in the region championship game at Harriman, at 7 p.m. The winner of Wednesday’s game will host a substate game, likely against Hampton, while the loser will travel, likely to face the state’s top team at South Greene.

In defeating Wartburg on Monday, Oneida was able to end its arch-rival’s season. The Bulldogs, who won the District 4-A tournament after the Lady Indians were eliminated by Sunbright, had won 18 of their last 20 games. The only two games Wartburg lost after Christmas were to Oneida.

Ironically, the last time the two teams faced each other, in the final week of the regular season at Wartburg, Oneida trailed by 22 points in the second half after scoring just 10 first half points, before rallying to win in overtime.

In Monday’s game, Wartburg scored just 11 first half points and saw Oneida surge ahead by 22 in the third quarter, then appeared set to stage a remarkably similar comeback.

West recalled after the game that his team had lost a 19-point second half lead in the region semifinals two years ago, when Meigs County rallied to win in the second half.

“We just have to relax and settle down,” he said. “We get a little carried away sometimes.”

For much of the game, the main storyline was Oneida’s defense. The Lady Indians flustered Wartburg with a 2-3 zone that they had not used much in the regular season.

Senior Emily Brooks said West told the team just one day before the game that they would be switching up defenses.

The switch appeared to catch Wartburg off-guard. With Oneida eliminating the post game on the offensive end of the court, the Bulldogs settled for 3-point tries, taking 32 shots from the perimeter. At halftime, the Bulldogs were shooting just 18 percent from the field, and trailed 21-11.

But Oneida’s offense was not exactly clicking on all cylinders. The Lady Indians shot only 33 percent in the first half and finished with 26 turnovers — three more than Wartburg. Struggling against the Bulldogs’ full-court press, Oneida finally began to sink some shots in the third quarter, and finished the game with a 51 percent shooting percentage.

As a result, the lead began to balloon in the third quarter, eventually getting to 22 points.

The lead was still 18 points as the fourth quarter began, but Wartburg caught fire, knocking down five 3-point shots in the final period. After scoring just 17 points in the first three quarters combined, the Bulldogs scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, and eventually cut the Oneida lead to seven.

The Lady Indians were able to hang on to the lead by continuing to attack the post with a combination of Thomas, Dishman and Bertram. The trio finished with 50 of Oneida’s 55 points and combined to shoot 17 of 24. They were also 13 of 18 from the free throw line.

ONEIDA (55): B. Thomas 19, Dishman 18, Bertram 13, Wright 3, Boyatt 2.

WARTBURG (41): Holly 12, Hurtt 11, Poland 9, Armes 4, Kidd 3, Potter 2.

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