By TREY WILLIAMS
The Daniel Boone girls basketball program’s first trip to the Class AAA state tournament ended with a 56-27 loss to undefeated Bradley Central in the quarterfinals.
But Boone made it a game for most of three quarters on a day when simply walking on the Murphy Center court at Middle Tennessee was a triumphant thrill that trumped any agony of defeat.
Coach Travis Mains didn’t hesitate when asked about images from Murfreesboro that’ll remain vivid decades from now.
“Just coming out and up the (ramp) and onto the floor and those lights being so bright and those parents and the sounds and how loud they were when the players came on the floor,” Mains said, “and when they announced their names and when we made a run there. Just that environment – you won’t know it until you get to that level. It showed how much it’s worth to work that hard to get to that level.”
Boone didn’t merely show up, although realistically, anything beyond a sectional win against a good Oak Ridge team had the feel of icing on the cake. But Macie Culbertson’s three-point play got the Trailblazers within 29-21 with four minutes left in the third quarter, and Boone was still within nine points with 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. That’s when Boone’s short bench suddenly made for long odds.
“They just physically wore us down,” Mains said. “They were really physical on the ball. We got to the foul line so many times (Boone was 16-for-21 while Bradley Central was 3-for-7 at the line), which is good, but they just wore us down. We weren’t deep enough to offset it later in the game. We didn’t shoot the ball very well, either.”
There was solace in statistics. Culbertson led the team in steals (three). Fellow seniors Sydney Pearce and Emily Sizemore led the team in the blocked shots and assists, respectively, while junior Bayleigh Carmichel scored a team-high eight points and sophomore Jaycie Jenkins had a team-high seven rebounds.
“We were very balanced every game,” Mains said. “The kids played so well as a team and played their roles.”
Culbertson’s lead role included leading the ‘Blazers to Murfreesboro, which she did with a 25-point performance in a sectional win against a good Oak Ridge team after winning regional MVP and helping end rival Morristown West’s season.
“Our main team goal this year was just simply to get to state,” Culbertson said. “We worked hard at practice and we just never got satisfied. We just always wanted to get better each day. And I think all that work really paid off and that’s how we got to state. But beating Mo West and Oak Ridge were two accomplishments that we are so proud of.
“Playing with Sydney and Emily the past three years I’ve actually played (Culbertson missed her freshman season with a knee injury), has been so fun. We were the leaders on the team, and to end our careers by going to the state tournament is something we all three loved.”
Anything less than a state tournament berth would’ve been disappointing for a senior class that included a Belmont signee (Culbertson) and a Carson-Newman signee (Pearce). Anything more would’ve been gravy.
“After the Oak Ridge game was amazing,” Mains said, “congratulating the kids and the parents coming up to you hugging you and crying, and the kids crying. It was pretty special. Bayleigh knew it was gonna be her last time with those kids and she was kind of hanging on every moment, it seemed like to me.
“I think they broke through a glass ceiling there that they saw in their sight, but I don’t think they realized that they could win, to be quite honest with you. But they figured it out, which was pretty cool.”
Culbertson sees a bright future despite the departures of her, Pearce and Sizemore.
“I believe the team will do just fine with leaders like Bayleigh and Jaycie next season,” Culbertson said. “They will push the other kids to step up and fill our spots and play.”