Lady Irish #1 in TN

Young sparks, MVP Mains’ 33, light a state title flame for KCHS

COOKEVILLE — What did it take for Knoxville Catholic’s girls basketball team to overcome first quarter deficits of 10-0 and 18-9, beating a defending state champion with one of the nation’s best high school point guards?

Junior wing Sydney Mains poured in 33 points — including five three-point jumpers — to earn Tournament Most Valuable Player honors and lead her Lady Irish (21-12) past Ensworth in a 64-59 thriller in the TSSAA Division II-AA Girls state title game Saturday, March 4, in Hooper Eblen Center on the Tennessee Tech campus. The Tigers end 27-5.

“We were playing like dead people for a while,” KCHS head coach Travis Mains said.

About reaching the team’s ultimate goal, “The seniors (point guard Jaz Williams and guard Kathleen Pettinger) definitely have a special place in our hearts, and we wanted to be able to achieve this for them,” said Sydney Mains, a Tennessee Miss Basketball Finalist whose key scoring runs in the second and fourth quarters were critical. “Also for us and our school because we’ve never won one — the girls haven’t.”

Despite a game-high 41 points from Ensworth junior star point guard Jaloni Cambridge, “Five (on the floor) and 14 (on the bench for Catholic) are going to beat one or two kids. The team will always win in a team sport,” coach Mains said.

“Even after the fact, I was so shocked; I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,’” Williams said. “We worked so hard all the time. We were so dedicated to what we were doing, and (we) kept saying, ‘We’re going to win it, we’re going to win it,’ and we finally did.”

Sparks during dead stretches

And while Williams provided enough defense and senior leadership (plus six rebounds and three points) to also earn All-Tournament honors, a pair of KCHS girls came off the bench to boost the effort at two critical points.

Amaya Redd, sophomore wing, provided a huge spark off the bench midway into the first quarter and into the second frame, using her physical presence on both sides of the floor. In addition to her 14 points, Redd pulled down seven rebounds, grabbed two steals and blocked one shot.

“It’s her energy and her attitude; Amaya is such an unselfish kid,” coach Mains said, adding that Redd even prefers coming off the bench versus starting. “She’s a brute force — she looks like Charles Barkley out there sometimes. ... She’s an amazing talent.”

“She a big body and she’s very dominant going left,” Ensworth head coach Mary Taylor Cowles said of Redd. “She’s very solid and quick off her feet.”

A 15-3 KCHS run spanning 3:30 early in the second quarter turned an 18-9 deficit into a 24-21 lead. Six Mains free throws and her first trey keyed the rally, while Williams converted a lay-up-three-point play and Redd scored on a fastbreak lay-up.

The team’s other All-Tournament honoree, Redd pulled down what might have been the game’s biggest rebound.

Leading 58-56 with 1:47 to play, Mains missed the second of her two free throws, but Redd’s offense rebound allowed Mains to go back to the line seconds later, nailing both charity tosses for a 62-58 edge and only 1:27 remaining.

Redd’s rebound “may have been the difference in the game,” coach Mains said.

Another off-the-bench spark came midway into the third quarter with the Lady Irish struggling offensive despite leading 29-27 at the half.

Freshman point guard Evaiya Mitchell used her quickness to dart past bigger Ensworth defenders and score seven points on drives into the paint, doing so in a span of just 1:22.

That stretch took Catholic from a 36-32 deficit to a 39-38 lead with 2:47 left in the third quarter.

“That kind of put a spark in all of us,” Sydney Mains said.

Mitchell “was amazing, she truly was,” coach Mains said.

“Her quickness was very, very difficult for us during that stretch,” Cowles said.

Down the stretch

Still, the Tigers and Cambridge responded well enough to lead KCHS 43-41 after three quarters.

However, Mains would nail two of her five treys in the fourth quarter.

“She is very good at reading the defense,” Cowles said.

The Lady Irish shot 58 percent in the final eight minutes (7-of-12), while Cambridge and the Tigers were only 4-of-15 (27 percent). Catholic did miss six free throws in the final quarter (7-of-13).

Sydney Mains split defenders on a driving lay-up with 4:05 to play, also drawing Cambridge’s fourth foul. Her offensive rebound and lay-up increased the Catholic lead to 55-51 with 3:31 left.

A Redd lay-up pushed the Lady Irish edge to 57-52 with 2:58 remaining. But two Cambridge free throws and her 15-foot jumper cut that advantage to 57-56 at the 2:13 mark.

After Cambridge trimmed a 60-56 KCHS lead to two after a lay-up with 1:20 showing on the clock, Redd hit one free throw before Ensworth’s superstar guard missed a tying three-point jumper, but hit the boards and drew a foul with just 29.8 seconds to play.

After hitting the first free throw, Cambridge missed the second, but the Tigers got the offensive rebound, and their junior star then missed a short baseline jumper that would have tied the game.

Mains grabbed a huge defensive rebound and converted both free throws at the 22.9 second mark for a 63-59 lead.

Cambridge misfired on a pair of three-point jumpers, and Mains ended up with the ball and just 4.3 seconds to play.

Her one free throw accounted for the final score.

About Sydney Mains, Cambridge said, “She can shoot the ball, she’s really good. She had 33 points for a reason.”

Other key KCHS players

Sophomore Margaret Frana, Lady Irish starting forward, scored four points, grabbed two rebounds and had one assist. Junior Caroline Krueger, also a starting forward, scored two points and grabbed two rebounds. Tinsley Walker, sophomore guard, hit a free throw and added two rebounds.

“Caroline and Maggie, they rebound, they set screens for Sydney,” coach Mains said. “... They do all the little things.”