By Maurice Patton
MURFREESBORO – Loretto was happy to be back. Cloudland was happy to be there.
And that may have been the difference in Wednesday’s TSSAA Class A girls basketball state tournament quarterfinal matchup, as the Lady Mustangs – making their third straight appearance – put together an early offensive blitz en route to a 63-31 victory.
“We’re comfortable here. That may have been a disadvantage for Cloudland,” Loretto coach Ashley Rutledge said after the victory, which sets up a 10 a.m. semifinal clash Friday against Clay County, a 59-38 quarterfinal winner Wednesday over Peabody.
While the Lady Mustangs had their tourney stay a year ago cut short because of the global pandemic, the team advanced to the 2019 finals before falling to Gibson County.
Cloudland, meanwhile, had to contend with a seasoned – and sizeable – Loretto team. The Lady ‘Landers were in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 and looking for their first tourney victory in six appearances, but struggled against the Lady Mustangs’ height on both ends of the floor.
“We talked all week about their length. (Karly) Weathers up top in their press hurt us,” said Cloudland coach Matt Birchfield, whose team scored at the 6:59 mark and allowed 12 straight points thereafter as Loretto seized a 14-2 lead.
“They’re so hard to defend with their length. With Weathers, you give it to her and she finds the kids around her.”
Karly Weathers, the Lady Mustangs’ 5-11 junior point guard, finished with eight assists to go with her game-high 21 points in a contest that was never in doubt after that early spurt.
“It means a lot to come out and make a statement like that,” Rutledge said regarding the margin of victory, as the fourth quarter was played under the mercy rule with the Lady Mustangs taking a 58-22 cushion into the final eight minutes.
Loretto (19-7) was the only team in the tournament field with fewer than 20 wins – a point not lost on Rutledge.
“Our schedule has been brutal,” she said. “We could be 30-1, 27-2. We could schedule those kind of tames. But we played three state champions (in Mississippi and Alabana), plus Upperman and Lebanon. We definitely put in a brutal schedule. Our girls have done a great job of making adjustments and getting better.
“We traveled 12 hours to win two (postseason) games. Our girls are road dogs.”
Weathers led four double-digit scorers for Loretto, as Kensey Weathers finished with 14 points and Madelyn Tidwell and Autumn Buttrum with 10 each.
Jasmine Birchfield scored 10 points to lead Cloudland (21-7).
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports