By J.P. Plant
MURFREESBORO — There was no slowing Loretto down Friday, as the Lady Mustangs ran past Clay County and into their second straight Class A state championship game with a 63-42 semifinal victory at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.
The win sets up a fourth meeting against Lawrence County and District 12-A rival Summertown, a 49-41 semifinal winner Friday over North Greene.
“I want to give props to Clay County,” Loretto coach Ashley Rutledge said after her team improved to 21-7 on the year. “I know we just beat them big but that just goes to show how well we executed.”
Having appeared in the most recent state title tilt in 2019 — last year’s tournament ended after the quarterfinal round because of the global pandemic — is an experience upon which Rutledge thinks she and her team will be able to draw.
“I think just settling in and remembering it’s just another game of 32 minutes,” Rutledge said regarding her team’s mentality heading into Saturday’s season finale. “Karly (Weathers) was a freshman and Kensey (Weathers) was a sophomore, so now a junior and a senior; the experience of that will help us for sure.”
“One of the things I love about this team is that business mentality,” Karly said after scoring a game-high 19 points in Friday’s win. “I feel confident our coaches will come in with a game plan and we’ll do everything we can to execute it.”
That execution has been on display late this season, especially on the floor at Murphy Center.
“We’ve kind of struggled with that this season,” Karly admitted after the game. “The coaches would give us a game plan and we would execute for maybe a quarter or two and then fall off — we have seven losses to prove that.
“The biggest growth for us has been late in the season, (Rutledge) has given us a game plan with Kensey and we’ve gone out and executed it. Coach always tells us to just do what we do.”
Both teams started off in prime-time form despite the 10 a.m. tip, hitting on five of the first six field goal attempts collectively. Kensey established her presence early with three buckets in the paint drawing the attention of the Lady Bulldogs defense — something she and her team clearly wanted to do.
“We knew we had the height and length advantage on this team so we focused on getting into the paint and finishing at the goal and drawing fouls,” said Kensey on her paint presence — “and scrapping for rebounds,” Karly added.
Kensey pounded in 18 points (6-10 FG) with nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Karly added six boards and five steals while shooting 6-for-11 from the floor (2-4 3-pointers), with Autumn Buttrum scoring another 16 points (6-9 FG, 2-5 3s).
Clay County (21-11) was led offensively by Katie Arms with 15 points.
Loretto enters the championship game having won both games on the Murphy Center floor by an average margin of 26.5 points. But despite the seemingly easy path to the final, Rutledge knows her team’s experience won’t allow them to relax.
“One thing that we’ve preached all year is that we play well here and we take great pride in that”, said Rutledge. “Like (Karly) said the other day this is our natural habitat — the experience of being here has helped us tremendously.
“Between our experience and our schedule, I feel confident our girls will be ready to play.”
Saturday’s championship game is set for 11 a.m. at Murphy Center.
Loretto girls 63, Clay Co. 42
L 23 11 15 14 — 63
C 13 9 11 9 — 42
Loretto (63) — Karly Weathers 19, Kensey Weathers 18, Autumn Buttrum 16, Jenny Clifton 5, Madelinn Tidwell 3, Julie Clifton 2
Clay Co. (42) — Katie Arms 15, Bella Ashlock 9, Rachel Copass 6, Briley Burchett 6, Hannah Raines 3, Isabella Hale 2, Lauren Weaver 1
3-pointers — Loretto 4 (Ka. Weathers 2, Buttrum 2), Clay Co. 3 (Arms 2, Ashlock)
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports