State Finals

Loudon makes state for first time since 1977

 Dave Link
LOUDON There were tears of joy inside the Loudon High School gym Saturday night.

The Lady Redskins cut down the nets after beating Grainger 57-38 in a Class AA state sectional game for a berth in this week's state basketball tournament in Murfreesboro. It will be the first trip to state for the Lady Redskins since 1977.

"Our whole town is behind us," said senior guard/post Jara Gasper, tears in her eyes. "It's crazy going to state, this being such a small town."

Loudon (28-4) will play its state quarterfinal game Wednesday. The draws will be made today in Murfreesboro.

"It's a dream as a coach to go to the state tournament," said Bryant Collins, in his 13th year as Loudon's coach. "I've had good teams in the past but we could never get over the hump. You have to be good and have a little luck. We've got a good team and fortunately nobody got hurt."

As the final seconds ticked off, Loudon's student section began singing the school's fight song. Students stormed the court after the game, and soon parents and fans joined the players and coaches as they cut down the nets.

"It feels good to do it for our team and this town," senior post Chelsey Moore said. "It makes you want to win state."

Gasper and Moore scored 20 points each as the Lady Redskins finished the season unbeaten at home.

Grainger (31-4) was led by sophomore forward Allison Hodge with 16 points and junior forward Laura Johnson with 13.

"Nobody can take away what we accomplished this season," Grainger coach Justin Combs said. "I think we tied a school record for wins and we were undefeated in a tough district. I'm proud of this team."

Cold shooting and a flurry of turnovers in the third quarter were Grainger's downfall.The Lady Grizzlies were 9-of-41 from the field, including 2-of-20 from 3-point range. They made 16-of-23 free throws.

Loudon had a 21-17 lead at halftime.

"The first half we got in a little foul trouble, with two fouls on a couple of girls," Collins said. "I told them I was pleased to be up by four. I felt like once we'd be able to unleash everybody, we'd be in good shape."

Loudon outscored Grainger 18-9 in the third quarter for a 39-26 lead starting the fourth. The Lady Grizzlies committed 10 of their 22 turnovers in the third quarter, many against full-court pressure.

Moore's fast-break layup stretched the lead to 20 with 2:45 left in the game.

"We made some adjustments with our press and got some turnovers and baskets off our press in the second half," Collins said. "That really turned the game around."