COSBY — If the question was whether Oneida could regroup just 72 hours after a disappointing — if not embarrassing — loss to Midway in the Region 2-A championship game, the answer was yes. If the question was whether Oneida would be intimidated by an overflow, hostile crowd on the road, the answer was no.
The Lady Indians jumped to a 13-point first half lead here Saturday evening, and rode that effort to a 57-52 win over the homestanding Eagles that sends them back to the state tournament in Murfreesboro for the first time in 14 years.
Kendyl West scored 21 points and had seven rebounds to pace the Lady Indians to the upset win over Cosby, one that saw Oneida use a strong fourth quarter to hang on for the win as the Eagles made a second half run that was keyed by their best player, Bralyn McGaha.
A raucous Cosby crowd — one that packed the school’s gymnasium a full hour before the game was to have tipped off — greeted the Lady Indians, who were reeling the last time they were on the floor against Midway. But Oneida didn’t flinch in the hostile environment, using stingy defense to take command of the game early.
The first half got off to an inauspicious start in some regards. Cosby shot 10 free throws to none for Oneida until the final minute of the first half. But that didn’t stop the Lady Indians’ zone defense, a mix of a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 that kept the Eagles off-balance throughout the first half. McGaha was limited to four first half points, the Eagles shot just 32 percent, and they were clearly flustered.
“We did frustrate 15. That helped,” Oneida coach Marv West said, referring to one of Midway’s better players. “I thought she looked a little tired in that first half. So we just kept running, kept running and kept running. It worked out.”
The second half was a different story. The Eagles came out of the locker room red-hot and recomposed, and wound up hitting eight 3-pointers in the second half — 11 for the game. They had trimmed the lead to four points by the end of the third quarter, and got it as close as three points on several occasions in the fourth quarter.
“The film that I watched, it wasn’t like they shot three after three after three. But (Leia Groat) hit two big ones. We can’t allow that.”
McGaha also caught fire, hitting four of those second half 3-pointers, a couple of which came several steps behind the 3-point line.
The Eagles did have one weakness: the free throw line. They connected on just 30 percent of their free throws in the second half, and finished the game just 7 of 17 from the line — 41 percent. Oneida didn’t do a lot better, hitting 12 of 21 free throws, or 57 percent. When it came time to win the game from the free throw line late in the fourth quarter, the Lady Indians missed five straight at one point, before West was able to hit two in a row with Cosby trailing by just three inside the final minute.
“We had to make free throws and we didn’t for a while,” West said. “Then we made two huge ones.”
The Lady Indians proved tenacious on several different occasions. Gracie Martin came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds, along with seven points. Harley Boyatt had eight rebounds in her starting role. On one occasion, Chelsea Newport missed an open layup when the Lady Indians caught Cosby napping in a half-court press, then she responded immediately on the next trip with a contested layup.
“She missed it but guess what? She didn’t pout,” West said of Newport. “She sprinted back down the court on the next play and she finished it. I was proud of that.
“I’m proud of all of them,” West added. “Everything didn’t go our way, but we just kept on and kept on and kept on. We’re ready to go back (to the state tournament). It’s been a while.”
The play of the game came in the closing seconds. After West’s free throws, Laney Hurley scored to make it a one-possession game and Cosby used a time out in an effort to set up a steal on the inbounds. When play resumed, the Eagles double-teamed West, expecting her to get the inbounds pass. But Chloe Terry broke free on a run-out, and Boyatt connected with her on a deep pass for an uncontested layup that sealed the game.
“We have a press release play, where we screen and release,” West said. “Chloe found another gear. I kinda wanted her to dribble it out, just dribble the clock out. But she finished it.”
Cosby’s last-gasp effort was a 3-point shot that was short.
“I knew how good this team was,” West said. “I saw them this summer. Coach (Cody) Lowe does a great job here and I really respect him.”
The Lady Indians were to have learned of their state quarterfinal opponent on Sunday, after teams were drawn. That game will be played on Thursday at Middle Tennessee State University.
Midway, which defeated Oneida in the district and region championship games, is headed to the state tournament after defeated North Greene, 54-52, on Saturday. However, the Lady Indians will not face the Green Wave in the quarterfinal round, due to the two teams being from the same region. Other teams in the state tournament include Clarkrange, Eagleville, Summertown, Loretto, Greenfield and Gibson County.
ONEIDA (57): West 21, Stiltner 9, Martin 7, Thomas 6, Terry 5, Newport 4, Lamb 3, Boyatt 2.
COSBY (52): McGaha 20, Groat 11, Myers 6, Ford 5, Hurley 5, Miller 5.