Kelsey Pike just wanted to cut down the net.
On Saturday, the freshman got that opportunity, after she helped lead Oneida to a 43-41 win over Cloudland in the Class A sectional, sending the Lady Indians to the state tournament for a second consecutive season.
After some end-of-game heroics — senior Chelsea Newport put back Pike’s missed jumper as the final horn sounded to lift the Lady Indians to victory in a game that appeared headed for overtime — the Lady Indians each took their turn on the ladder to cut down the net from the same goal that Newport’s dramatic, game-winning shot had just settled through.
“Gosh what a night,” Oneida head coach Marv West said of the freshman, who had 12 points to lead the Lady Indians in scoring and was 10 of 10 from the free throw line. “She said last night when we were watching film, ‘I just want to cut the net. I’ve never got to do that.’ We don’t do enough of that in district and region tournaments. So I said if we win tonight, we’re cutting the net. And she was more nervous doing that than playing the game. She looked at me and said, ‘I’m shaking.’ I said, ‘Kelsey, you can shake all you want.’”
It wasn’t just the offensive end of the floor where Pike came up big for the Lady Indians. She also drew the assignment of guarding Cloudland’s Jasmine Birchfield when Oneida switched back to its man defense in the fourth quarter. Birchfield had 17 points to lead all scorers — but did not score after being picked up by Pike.
“I didn’t assign that, to be honest,” West said. “She went out there and I said, ‘This is not a good matchup for Kelsey.’ But what a job she did. If Kelsey doesn’t come to play tonight, we’re not going down there (to Murfreesboro).”
At times during Saturday’s game, it looked like Oneida was going to run away with the game. At other times, it looked like the Lady Indians were going to wilt under the pressure of Cloudland’s aggressive defense.
Oneida went ahead 8-1 before Cloudland made its first field goal with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter, only to see the Lady Highlanders roar back with a 9-0 run to start the second quarter, turning a 12-4 deficit into a 13-12 lead.
But Oneida closed the first half on an 11-0 run, taking a 23-13 lead to the halftime break. Senior Kendyl West, who 72 hours earlier was named the most valuable player of the Region 2-A tournament, led Oneida with six first half points. Fellow senior Harley Boyatt had five.
When Boyatt scored on a jumper to start the third quarter, it was 13 consecutive points for the Lady Indians, and Cloudland was down 12.
But again the Lady Highlanders answered, reading off seven straight points to tighten things up, then eventually taking a 32-31 lead in the fourth quarter. It was a 19-6 run overall.
Oneida quickly answered with a pair of free throws by Pike to regain the lead with 6:01 to play, but then Cloudland struck back. The back-and-forth game continued with the two teams switching out the lead two more times before Oneida went up 37-36 with just over three minutes remaining.
With 41 seconds remaining, Newport stepped to the line and knocked down two free throws to give Oneida a 41-38 lead. The free throw line was a key story in Saturday’s game. Oneida was 16 of 18 from there, hitting 89 percent of its attempts, including 6 of 6 in the fourth quarter. Cloudland was just 4 of 6 from the free throw line.
The Lady Highlanders had an answer, though, as Gracie Freeman knocked down a 3-point shot to tie the game with 23 seconds remaining.
From there, Oneida worked the ball around and it wound up in the hands of Pike as time ticked away. Her shot was off the back of the rim, and Newport was in position for the backside rebound and putback as the final horn sounded.
It was a critical rebound, because it was rebounding and second chance opportunities that allowed Cloudland back into the game in the third quarter. In fact, the Lady Highlanders had 10 third quarter rebounds — six of them off the offensive glass. Oneida did not have a rebound in the third quarter.
But the biggest rebound of the game fell right into Newport’s hands after Cloudland overplayed on Pike’s jumper. The crowd visibly groaned as Pike’s shot bounced off the rim, apparently believing regulation had ended. Everyone on the floor seemed to believe it too, as the game seemed to pause.
Newport didn’t stop, however, putting up a one-handed shot as time expired to set off a wild celebration on the Lady Indians’ sideline.
“I thought we were about to head to overtime and the ball just kinda fell into my hands,” the senior said afterward. “I was like, ‘Well, I might as well shoot it,’ and I did, and the game wasn’t over.”
West said his team did a good job finding a way to finish.
“I’ve seen these kids play since second or third grade and I knew (back then) what I had, talent-wise,” he said. “I wanted to send these guys out with something special. There were times tonight when it was out of my hands. Sometimes calling a timeout doesn’t help, changing defenses doesn’t help. Basketball is a game of runs. There were first half runs and there were second half runs. We just worked for it and finished the game on the right run. Chelsea was in the right spot and made the right play.”
ONEIDA (43): Pike 12, Boyatt 9, Newport 6, West 6, Thomas 4, Stiltner 4, Wisner 2.
CLOUDLAND (41): J. Birchfield 17, Benfield 10, Freeman 9, Caraway 5.