By Maurice Patton
MURFREESBORO – If Saturday’s TSSAA Class A girls basketball state championship contest at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center could be encapsulated in one word, execution would probably fit.
When it mattered, Loretto ran its offense more effectively than Summertown, as the Lady Mustangs reversed a season-long trend with their 49-41 victory – delivering the program’s first title since 1958 and improving on a runner-up finish from the last tournament finals that were held, in 2019.
“As we watched tape, we knew we’ve not executed like we should have,” Loretto coach Ashley Rutledge said in reference to her team’s three previous losses to the Lady Eagles – two in District 12-A regular-season play and a 60-56 defeat in the Region 6-A finals. “They see plays that we normally don’t make.
“We knew if we played our game and executed, we were going to win.”
Led by Karly Weathers, who scored a game-high 18 points, the Lady Mustangs (21-7) broke open a contest in which neither team led by more than four points until the final five minutes. Kensey Weathers scored on a high-post jumper to make it a 38-33 game, with Karly converting both ends of a one-and-one and Madelinn Tidwell adding a pair of free throws.
“I think early in the game, I was forcing shots,” said Karly, named the tournament most valuable player and Miss Basketball. “At halftime, my teammates encouraged me, my mom (assistant coach Kelli Weathers) encouraged me. My outside shots weren’t falling, so I tried to pound it inside the paint.”
Down 42-33, Summertown was unable to rally.
“I think we did our job defensively,” Lady Eagles coach Catie Embrey said. “Offensively, we didn’t execute at the level we needed to.
“We’re a good offensive team. In the bracket we played, the tough teams we played, our bench was short, the legs get to you. We shot so terribly, in the worst possible week. We didn’t execute enough to win a ballgame.”
Summertown (29-4), which never seemed to find an offensive rhythm, shot 40 percent (16-40) from the floor and hit just 4 of 20 attempts from 3-point range. Things went from bad to worse when junior post Katie Burdette picked up her fifth foul with 5:51 remaining and her team trailing 34-33.
“It was terrible. I’ve never been in that position before,” said Burdette, whose 12 points led the Lady Eagles. “All you can do is cheer and hand waters out.”
The team’s primary rim protector, Burdette’s loss was felt more on the offensive end, according to Embrey.
“Her presence rebounding, her presence on the backside when we’re driving, when we can feed her – I think they worry about her,” the coach said.
“That was huge,” Rutledge agreed. You’ve got to give her props. She’s a great player, hard to guard.”
Without the threat Burdette presents in the paint, an already struggling Lady Eagle offense had few answers down the stretch.
And Loretto capitalized, connecting on 11 of 12 free throws the rest of the way.
While the Lady Mustangs snapped a 63-year drought with the win, Summertown, a finalist in 2018, is still in search of its first state title in girls basketball – despite going 3-1 against this year’s champion.
“It’s very frustrating because you have beaten somebody three times,” Embrey said. “But it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before. It’s what you do here.”
After falling short in the 2019 finals and losing an opportunity to advance past the quarterfinals last year as a result of the global pandemic, finishing this season with a gold ball was important to Rutledge and her team.
“Give props to them,” Rutledge said. “They’re a great team. To beat a team of that caliber is very satisfying.”
“It means so much for so many different reasons. We had one or two players in the stands from that ’58 team. Our seniors from last year were up in the stands sobbing. To do this for our school and our community means a lot.”
Loretto girls 49, Summertown 41
S 7 11 11 12 — 41
L 7 13 11 18 — 49
Summertown (41) – Jenna Brazier 3, Kaley Campbell 9, Hailey Jones 10, Katie Burdette 12, Rylee Long 3, Karlie Campbell 4
Loretto (49) – Julie Clifton 3, Madelinn Tidwell 9, Autumn Buttrum 9, Karly Weathers 18, Kensey Weathers 8, Shelby Fisher 2
3-pointers – Summertown 4 (Brazier, Campbell, Jones, Long), Loretto 2 (Tidwell, Buttrum)
All-tournament – Katie Arms, Clay Co.; Brooklyn Anderson, North Greene; Rylee Long, Katie Burdette, Kaley Campbell, Hailey Jones, Summertown; Autumn Buttrum, Kensey Weathers, Madelinn Tidwell, Karly Weathers (MVP), Loretto
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-TN Sports