Tuscola girls basketball fought hard and played well against Franklin Thursday night, but fouls ultimately sank the Mountaineers in a 58-41 loss.
At both varsity games Thursday night, Tuscola coaches, players and cheerleaders wore pink articles in honor of Pisgah JV cheerleader Lacie Fisher, who recently passed away due to complications from a flu-like illness.
Gracie “John” Glance and Delany Buchanan led the Mountaineers with 10 points apiece. The Mountaies put up a strong, hard-fought effort to the final buzzer, which, coming off the team’s first win of the season Tuesday night, continued to reinforce the notion that this team is heading in the right direction.
“I cannot complain about how hard we played,” said head coach Pam Bryant. “They went from jump ball all the way to the end. So I’m very proud of where they have come in just 11 days. It was 31-9 at halftime the first time [Tuscola played Franklin] and we were only down by seven this time. So we weren’t able to execute, but overall I’m just very proud of the hustle and the effort that they gave.”
The first quarter opened to a defensive battle, with the two teams tied 4-4 just under six minutes in and both locking things down across the board with their zones. The Panthers carried a four-point lead into the first break at 11-7.
After Franklin pushed its lead to eight with a 7-3 run early in the second quarter, Tuscola answered to trim its definit to three with five unanswered points.
“I love it,” Bryant said. “They’re getting to that phase now where they’re very eager to learn and, after the win the other night and just the way they’ve been playing, they’re starting to get a better confidence about themselves in regards to what they want to do. They’re shooting the ball, they’re handling the ball well. Our turnovers are coming down, we’re hitting shots. Overall, we are moving in the right direction that we were looking for.”
The Panthers, however; answered with a 6-0 run to push their lead to nine at 24-14.
Mountaineers sophomore Abby Westmoreland sunk two free throws late in the half to keep the team within striking distance down seven at the break.
Franklin pushed its lead to 10 on multiple occasions through the first four minutes of the third quarter, but, each time, the Mountaineers had an answer to keep it within single digits.
Tuscola managed to shrink its deficit to six with a couple minutes left in the quarter, but the Panthers extended their lead to a game-best 14 heading into the final frame with a 10-0 run, aided by three late free throws.
“The fouls were absolutely a factor,” Bryant said. “That’s one of the things we talk about all the time, one of our assistant coaches talks about it: we have to control the things that we can control. We can’t control the referees and the fouls they call. But we can control how we foul. And so, I think a lot of times tonight, our fouls were out of frustration. They shot 34 free-throws to our 19. Some of those are maybe not legit, possibly, but other ones were out of frustration.
“Sometimes it was them rebounding the ball at the right time, and that’s whenever we would foul. So a lot of times, we may have out-rebounded them, but they got the rebounds at the crucial times that they needed them. And that’s when we picked up a lot of our fouls.”
After Franklin extended its lead to 16 with a 3-pointer early in the fourth, the Mounties struck to within 10 with 3:31 left with an 8-2 run.
That was as close as it would get from that point, and while the Mountaineers came up short, they could hold their heads high after the way they fought.
Tuscola will be back in action against conference foe T.C. Roberson at home Friday night, looking to continue to build on their recent efforts.
“I think anybody who watches us can tell, things are starting to click,” Bryant said. “Each player is starting to develop their own skills. And so as they develop those skills, it’s coming into the team atmosphere. It’s different in the locker room right now, it’s different in practices. I think it’s evident on the court. They are a different team than when we first started.”