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Stone girls fall to No. 1 White County

Mar. 1—The Stone Memorial Lady Panthers came on strong late in the 2023-'24 basketball regular season. They didn't have the record [11-16] they would have liked to have had, and they finished down in the final district standings.

However, the black and gold put on a show late, winning their final two games. Then, Stone beat ranked Cumberland County in the opener of the district tournament before knocking off Upperman, at one time ranked No. 2 in the state, in the tournament's consolation. SMHS also went on the road to top Central Magnet in the first round of the region.

Talk about a late surge?

But the clock struck 12 on Stone Memorial's season earlier this week when the Lady Panthers dropped a 60-48 decision to White County in the semifinals of the Region 3 Tournament in Tullahoma.

"The scouting report was pretty clear in our girls' eyes," said Stone coach Mike Buck. "We played them three times previous, but we did make a couple of changes defensively to try and limit some of their kids we knew were capable of scoring the ball. We wanted to force other players to make plays

"Ultimately, it came down to if we could force them into their weaknesses. Also, we wanted to keep them off the glass. We watched film to prepare for them, but we were basically seeing the same stuff with them that we've seen all season. They are who they are."

The game started out like a championship boxing match. Neither team could gain much of an advantage, but that didn't stop them from knocking down shot after shot. Stone led 25-22 at the half, thanks to buckets from Rachel Houston, Lily Hinch and Kailee Waldo.

"I was pretty. pleased with the way things went in the first half," Buck said. "We held the No. 1-ranked team without a field goal in the second quarter. They scored nine points and they were all from the free-throw line.

"I was really pleased, but we knew they were going to come out and be aggressive at some point and really turn it on. For us, we wanted to, to use a boxing term, punch first.

"I did think we came out of the break and played well in the second half," Buck said, "but they had a gear we couldn't match. Their overall athleticism took over and made the game difficult for us."

Stone did land a lot of punches in the second half. The Lady Panthers expanded on their lead and was up by as much as nine early in the fourth period.

"When we got up nine, I felt like their game plan was to go out there and make it as physical of a game as they could," Buck said. "They just put their head down and got by us on offense. .That made it a downhill game on their offensive end, and it is crazy hard trying to keep an athletic skilled kid in front of you."

Houston and Headrick led Stone in scoring for the game with 18 points each. Adison Howard contributed 7, while Lily Hinch had 3 and Waldo chipped in with 2.

Celeste Reed topped White County with 21 points. Lakelyn Gratsy added 20 in the victory.

"I tried to get the point across to the girls, through the tears after the game, that they had a really good year," Buck said. "I wanted them to understand this group probably showed as much improvement as any team I have ever coached. They had to go through as much adversity with the opponents on their schedule night in and night out as any team I have ever coached.

"This team never got laid out all season. Over the last five or six weeks, we've seen a massive amount of growth and improvement, and a real growth in belief in themselves..They achieved a lot of success, and success some people didn't expect. I hope people got to see how much growth, improvement. and perserverence these kids played with all year."

Buck also said he wanted to highlight the play of the team's four seniors — Rachel Houston, Kailee Waldo, Kara Von Achen, and Paige Roberts.

"Each one of them contributed to the program in a different way," Buck said. "Talk about being blessed, coaching this team was great."