HARRIMAN — You couldn’t have scripted Monday’s Region 2-A semifinal any better, even if you had tried.
Oneida trailing by two. The seconds winding down in an elimination game. And Kendyl West, who from a medical standpoint wasn’t even expected to have been playing, drifting to perhaps her favorite spot on the floor — the left wing.
The pass from Harley Boyatt, the shot just away over the out-stretched hand of Tellico Plains’ Jaden Hollinghead. And, with 19 seconds remaining . . . nothing but net.
The final sequence still had to play out. Tellico Plains still had to miss two 3-pointers — including a wide-open look by perhaps the best player the Lady Indians had faced all season, Samantha Russell, who finished with a game-high 17 points — before time expired. But the storyline had already been written. And it had West’s fingerprints all over it.
The final horn sounded as Joell Stinnett’s 3-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim, capping a 49-48 win for the Lady Indians, one that saw them end the game on a 9-2 run in the final four minutes. That run was book-ended by two of West’s three 3-pointers on the night.
Less than two weeks earlier, West was having emergency surgery to remove her appendix after an unexpected bout with appendicitis. It was terrible timing — two days before the Lady Indians, District 3-A’s top-seeded team, were to have played their first postseason game. West, a junior, had emerged as one of the district’s top players this season, and suddenly faced the prospect of having to miss the entire postseason — unless her team found a way to get to the region championship, which was the earliest she was expected to be cleared.
“I want to thank Kendyl and her mom for talking me into letting her play,” Oneida coach Marv West, still breathless, said minutes after his daughter’s big shot. “Tressa (Walker, Kendyl’s mother) did a lot of research. She’s a Google doctor. She really looked into it. I wasn’t going to let her play before she was ready. I’d rather lose a game than let someone get hurt, whether it’s my daughter or whoever. But Tressa approached doctors and physical therapists about it. They were like, ‘She’s healed; she’s ready.’ Yeah, I think she was.”
West’s big shot capped a game of momentum swings. The two teams had traded the lead seven times. Oneida led by as much as eight points in the third quarter, and Tellico Plains led by as much as six points in the fourth quarter.
It was at that point, with just over four minutes to play and Tellico Plains up 46-40, that things seemed worrisome for the Lady Indians. The Bears were more than just the state’s fourth-ranked team in Class A, more than just a 28-1 opponent that hadn’t lost a game to a team from Tennessee all season. They suddenly had all the momentum, were suddenly getting the 50-50 balls that had been winding up in Oneida’s hands a few minutes earlier.
Then momentum swung again, and it swung on a 3-pointer from West that came — as have so many this season — from the left wing.
On the next trip, Kateyln Stiltner, who finished with a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds, earned a couple of offensive boards before West got another look at a 3-pointer, from the same spot on the floor. It was off the mark, but Tellico Plains fouled her. Uncharacteristically, she made only one of the three free throws, but it was enough to draw Oneida to within two.
One trip after that, Stiltner came up with a layup inside, tying the game.
The Lady Indians had a chance to take the lead when Harley Boyatt, who finished with 10 points, was fouled on a rebound with just over a minute to play. The front end of a one-plus-one opportunity was missed, but the game remained tied.
It was the Bears’ turn to celebrate a few seconds later, when Kori Hamilton sank a free throw line jumper with 41 seconds remaining to give her team a 48-46 lead.
But the jubilation on the home side of the court lasted just 22 seconds. West’s 3-point shot attempt was contested, but she shot it with confidence — and drilled it.
“Kendyl had wanted the district championship,” West said of his daughter. “She wanted to come in and show that she was one of the best players in the district. That was so bad about her having her appendix taken out when she did. Tonight I think she made up for all that time and then some.”
Oneida had started the game by leading for most of the first quarter. The Lady Indians regained the lead in the second quarter on a pair of Stiltner free throws, after Tellico Plains had built as much as a six-point advantage.
The Lady Indians were up four points at halftime, closing on a 13-3 run.
The first half had been about the offensive production of Stiltner. The third quarter was about Boyatt and Logan Lamb. Boyatt, a part of the Lady Indians’ strong junior class, hit back-to-back jumpers to push the lead to eight points — the largest of the night for either team.
“I’ve been on Harley pretty hard lately,” West said. “The other day in practice it wasn’t pretty for me or her. I gave her a hug before I came out here because I know what she’s capable of and we need her.”
Then, Lamb — one of just two seniors on the roster — came up with big buckets to keep the Lady Indians in front, as they continued to rely strongly on their post game.
“What about the minutes from Logan Lamb?” West said. “We’ve been begging her all year to take the ball up off two feet. She’s a bruiser; nobody can handle her. Tonight you saw what happens when Logan takes the ball up strong. Number 10 (Russell) had nothing for her.”
It all seemed to change, though, after Gracie Martin hit a shot to give the Lady Indians a 35-29 lead with 3:27 to play in the third. Tellico Plains slowly began to gain the advantage.
Russell gave her team the lead on a shot with six minutes remaining, then saw Chloe Yearwood — who finished with 15 — hit two free throws to push the lead to three points. After that, Kori Hamilton made three out of four free throws to push the lead to 46-40, and it seemed like the Lady Indians were in trouble.
But that was before the storybook finish.
“This game has been on my mind since the other night,” West said. “We broke down film and looked at film. You try to break it down but when you play a team that shoots the 3 like they shoot it, you don’t get it until you’ve played them.”
Among the Bears’ 3-point shooters were Russell with four, and Yearwood with two. Hamilton, a freshman came off the bench to knock down a pair of 3-pointers and finish with 13 points.
“She’s a good little player,” West said. “But I’ve got some good little players of my own.”
ONEIDA (49): Stiltner 14, Boyatt 10, West 10, Lamb 7, Terry 3, Martin 3, Thomas 2.
TELLICO PLAINS (48): Russell 17, Yearwood 15, Hamilton 13, Stinnett 2, Hollinghead 1.