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Empire senior Kaelyn Allensworth didn’t have time to bleed.
Still, in the second quarter of the 57-42 win versus Geronimo at Chattanooga Friday, the referee made her take a seat to bandage her knee. That was the only time that Allensworth spent on the bench in the first-round playoff victory, and she more than made up for it in the third quarter.
Allensworth finished with 25 points, 14 of which came in a crucial third that put the Bulldogs (10-9) well ahead.
“I love it when senior leadership steps up like that,” coach Jason Allensworth said. “We always tell them when we leave halftime, ‘Big third quarter. Don’t come out flat. Make a big statement.’ She did that.”
After coming out flat in their last game, a 56-46 loss to Wilson, the Bulldogs made sure that wasn’t going to happen. Sophomore point guard Sherre Dewey sunk a three pointer and then fed an assist to senior Jessica Carney. Empire led 5-0 and Geronimo (6-14) took a timeout.
“That lets me know how we’re going to play night in and night out, is how we come out that first two three minutes of the ballgame,” coach Allensworth said. “We came out on a mission.”
That mission took a hit when Dewey went down with an injury midway through the first. She had to come out and would not return. With the team’s best ballhandler out, senior Melaina Yearby took over the point guard role.
Instead of fulfilling her usual role as a prolific scorer, Yearby had to concentrate on running the offense. With Geronimo mounting a comeback in fourth quarter, Yearby’s leadership became even more vital.
“Once we stay focused, stay calm, we can control the ball better,” Yearby said.
With the win, the Lady Bulldogs punched their ticket to the regional regardless of what happened Saturday versus No. 11 Chattanooga.
Empire lost that game 73-33, in large part due to a 21-1 third quarter. The Lady Bulldogs trailed by just eight at halftime.
“We came out playing well,” Allensworth said. “They came out in a totally different gear. I don’t know if we were fatigued from Friday night, but we just didn’t come out with the same energy.”
The Empire boys (3-16) didn’t the get the chance to play Saturday, after they lost to Geronimo 77-63 on Friday. The Bulldogs were down 22 at one point in the third quarter, but a resurgence from senior Tanner Ford forced the Geronimo faithful into nail-biting mode.
Coach Stefan Hunt’s team knocked on the door of a single-digit deficit for most of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t break through. He chalked it up to controlling the ball.
“You can’t have 22 turnovers and expect to beat anybody this late in the season,” Hunt said. “We can chalk some of that up to inexperience, but at some point in time, you have to be mature enough to slow down, do what’s right and not let your emotions get the best of you.”
Ten of those turnovers came in a first quarter to forget for Hunt. Down 18-9 after one and 43-27 at the half, it looked like Geronimo was going to cruise to victory.
The Bulldogs fired back. Ford hit his stride scoring all of his 19 points in the second half, which his team won 36-32. It was just too much of a hole to climb out of. Hunt said the players needed to play calmer when the game first started.
“Tonight we were so amped, so excited that it showed with wanting to go 130 miles per hour,” Hunt said. “You don’t have to go 130. You have to go about 60, because in game time situation, your adrenaline will increase your athleticism.”
Still, Hunt was happy with how the team improved this year. His only hang up was that the seniors couldn’t get farther in the state playoffs bracket.