KNOXVILLE — Head coach Justin Underwood was breathing a sigh of relief after watching his Bearden High School girls basketball team win the District 4-AAA Tournament championship and improve to 16-0 in district games.
Early on it looked like the top-seeded Lady Bulldogs were going to cruise to victory. Not surprisingly, however, winning the title didn’t come easily.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Underwood said after Bearden notched a 57-46 win versus No. 2 seed Maryville before a spirited crowd at BHS Monday night, Feb. 22. “It’s never easy when you have to play a good team three times.
“I guess I’m just glad that we got out ahead as far as we did.”
The top-five state-ranked Lady Bulldogs (26-1) darted to a fast start and opened an early 17-7 advantage before extending their lead to 29-17 by halftime.
But the second half would be a different story. Even though the Lady Red Rebels (23-5) would never manage to grab the lead in the contest, they would create some anxious moments.
Maryville trimmed Bearden’s lead to one point several times. The last time it was that close, Lady Red Rebel Denae Fritz, District 4-AAA MVP and a Class AAA Miss Basketball Finalist, knocked down a pair of free throws trimming the lead to 41-40 with 6:27 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But Fritz, who finished the contest with 17 points, would foul out at the 2:38 mark of the final frame, and the Lady Bulldogs closed the game out on a 16-6 run.
Bearden had its usual balanced offensive attack, with senior guard Zneyah McLaughlin leading the way with 17 points. McLaughlin scored nine of her points over the final eight minutes of the contest.
Emily Gonzalez added 12 points and Jennifer Sullivan scored 10 for the Lady Bulldogs. Sophomore center Avery Treadwell finished with seven points.
“We have five girls in our starting lineup that always play hard,” Underwood said/
Bearden got a big lift off the bench from sophomore guard Brinley Murphy, who scored four clutch points and grabbed a pair of big late rebounds.
“I’m proud of all of our girls, and we got a big lift from (Murphy) off the bench,” Underwood said. “She hit a couple of lay-ups and grabbed a couple of rebounds.”