Daniel Boone Head Coach Travis Mains celebrates his team’s playoff win in Bobby Snyder Gymnasium.
By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone senior point guard Macie Culbertson didn’t have to carry the balanced Lady Trailblazers basketball team to the state tournament.
However, after watching her performance in Boone’s historic 62-51 sectional win against Oak Ridge on Saturday at Bobby Snyder Gym, you got the feeling she could have if necessary.
The 5-foot-11 Belmont signee scored 16 of her game-high 25 points in the second half and finished 10-for-10 at the foul line while helping the Lady ‘Blazers avenge a 2017 sectional loss at Oak Ridge to claim the program’s first Class AAA state tournament berth.
Boone reached the 1997 Class AA state tournament during Jerry Jenkins’ final season and returned the following year under Tim Campbell.
Fifth-ranked (30-4) Boone, which made 19 of 20 foul shots against Oak Ridge, will play second-ranked Bradley Central (32-0) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. (EST) in Murfreesboro.
Culbertson, who was named regional tournament MVP on Wednesday after leading the ‘Blazers to a rather easy win against Jefferson County in the championship, was dazzling down the stretch against a quality Oak Ridge team. During a game-ending 16-8 run, she scored 10 points and assisted 3-pointers by fellow senior Emily Sizemore and junior Bayleigh Carmichel.
“I looked at Macie at halftime and she just had that look, man,” Daniel Boone coach Travis Mains said.
Carmichel, who scored 12 points, including a 3-pointer from the left corner via an assist from Culbertson to give Boone a 54-49 lead with 2:01 remaining, noticed Culbertson’s look to.
“I haven’t seen that look in Macie in a long time,” Carmichel said. “I know she didn’t want her season to be over and I knew she wanted to make it to state before her trip down to Nashville for college. So I think that drove her to play outstanding in the second half.”
Culbertson assisted a Sizemore trey that gave Boone the lead for good (51-49) with 3:17 remaining. It triggered a 10-0 run.
“My three years that I’ve played we’d never gotten this far,” Culbertson said. “So I think we kind of wanted revenge from last year – them knocking us out. I just knew I needed to step up for my team and I just helped to get the win.
“It’s really exciting. It was crazy in the locker room – just us as a team celebrating and screaming and stuff. This was really important to us.”
Culbertson and fellow senior Sydney Pearce (11 points), a Carson-Newman signee who blocked her 500th career shot during a six-swat performance against Oak Ridge, were expected to lead Boone to at least one state tournament when they entered the program.
Culbertson missed her freshman season with a knee injury and was burdened by a brace her sophomore year. Pearce sustained a serious ankle injury during the offseason prior to a junior season that was consequently compromised.
Still, anything less than a trip to Murfreesboro and history would’ve judged the tandem’s careers somewhat harshly.
“It’s been a steady climb,” Mains said. “It feels like you get kicked down and the kids – they just keep working. They take butt-chewings and they just keep climbing. This is very sweet.
“Sydney had the ankle injury. Macie tore her ACL. The kids kept going through adversity. And they didn’t want to lose tonight.”
Pearce, whose mother Tammy was a Daniel Boone standout who went on to play at Tennessee and East Tennessee State, scored 10 of her 11 points in the first half against Oak Ridge. She also finished with eight rebounds.
“I feel like every year we’ve gotten better and done better,” Pearce said. “It’s awesome to get revenge on Oak Ridge and to be going to state and in the final eight. And we won our last game on this court.”
Mains also played in high school on the court – for the coach whose name is now on the gym. Mains, an overachieving basketball junkie who won an Arby’s Classic 3-point shootout and was a solid player at King University, had the look of a man who’d reached the top of a mountain Saturday night.
“He’s pushed – I know me – the hardest anybody’s ever pushed me,” Culbertson said. “He’s such a good coach and he’s so important to me.
“I think we kind of all did it for him, because he pushes us and he believes in us.”
Boone sophomore forward Jaycie Jenkins, who should’ve been voted to the all-region team along with Culbertson, Pearce and Carmichel, tallied 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the sectional. Culbertson had seven rebounds and five assists.
“They all followed behind Macie,” Mains said “She wasn’t gonna let us lose, and neither was Sydney or Bayleigh or Emily or Jaycie.”
Oak Ridge, which was replacing one starter from last season’s team, was attempting to reach the state tournament for the third straight year. The Wildcats probably would have, Oak Ridge coach Paige Redman will tell you, were it not for Culbertson’s performance.
“She showed up and wanted to play and, I mean, she made it difficult for us,” Redman said. “They set up in a big zone and that’s not to our advantage. That’s no secret. We’re better when we are running up and down. We did too much standing offensively against their zone in the second half.
“They’re a good basketball team. They are well-coached. They made shots. And I think they were 19 for 20 from the free throw line. I mean that’s hard to beat.”
It’s hard to beat the chill bumps that rose when seeing the emotion glisten in Carmichel’s eyes afterward. Her mother, the former Kim McInturff, played on back-to-back state tournament teams (1985-86) at Unicoi County before playing at Western Carolina. Bayleigh is undefeated in games when she wears a Western Carolina hoodie.
“It’s an unreal feeling (making state),” Carmichel said with a quivering voice. “It’s everything you’ve worked for since you were a kid. She said it’s unbelievable to go and she wanted me to be able to go. So I’m glad we made it.”
Anything else would be gravy, especially when considering a tough quarterfinal opponent. But Mains said Boone can compete with Bradley Central, which beat the ‘Blazers, 56-43, on Nov. 25 in the championship of a Thanksgiving tournament at Bradley Central. Culbertson and a balanced roster of complementary cogs should give Boone a puncher’s chance.
“Macie’s very special,” Mains said. “She attacked that basket (against Oak Ridge). She’s an all-state player. If she don’t make all-state there’s something wrong. … I can’t wait till Wednesday to see what she does next.”