Lady 'Dogs drop 'Horns for first win of season

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--The relief was evident when the first word came out of Leslie Campbell's mouth.
   "Finally," said the ecstatic Hampton girls head coach after her basketball team defeated the Johnson County Lady Longhorns 41-38 Friday night for the Lady Bulldogs' first win of the 2002-2003 season.
   It's been a frustrating season for both teams, but the Lady Longhorns had a win over University High earlier in the year. Hampton came in winless, so pulling the victory out on the road makes it even more special for Campbell.
   "It's always tough to play up here," Campbell said. "We knew it was going to be tough, and we don't take anybody for granted. We knew that they were going to give us a game. We just wanted to come out on top. We had a real good practice yesterday, and I think the girls are finally, finally understanding what it takes to win."
   It wasn't easy for the Lady Bulldogs. As a matter of fact, it looked in the final seconds like the game might go the other way.
   Hampton was ahead 40-38 with 5.4 seconds to go when Lady Longhorn point guard Courtney Shaw put up a desperation three, but was fouled on the play.
   Shaw went to the line for her three free-throws. Shaw missed the first two, then a timeout was called.
   Shaw missed the third on purpose, hoping her team would come up with a big rebound. But it was Hampton freshman Jessi Price who would wind up with the basketball to pretty much seal the game for the Lady Bulldogs.
   "Everybody told me that 'you've got this rebound,'" Price said. "Someone told me we haven't lost to Johnson County since 1978. That just boosted me up."
   Hampton pulled it out in the end, but it was a valiant effort by Johnson County just to get to that point.
   Hampton held a commanding 33-22 advantage going into the final period, but with strong inside play from Ryann Tillman and hot shooting from Elena Owens, that lead started to dissipate late in the contest.
   With Hampton ahead 39-31 at the 1:40 mark of the fourth quarter, Owens hit two big baskets, the latter one being a three-pointer.
   After another defensive stop by Johnson County, Laura Peters nailed a bucket to make it a one-point contest, giving Johnson County a chance to win.
   The Lady Longhorns might not have been in the situation to come back had it not been for Tillman. The freshman sensation scored 23 of her team's 38 points.
   "I thought I did OK," Tillman said. "But the team just played really good all together.
   "I thought we were going to win it at the end, but I guess not."
   With the loss of Andrea McQueen to an ACL injury earlier in the year, the Lady Longhorns were in desperate need of a scorer. Tillman is showing signs of becoming that major scoring threat, with Friday night being proof of that.
   But despite the performance she had, Tillman still doesn't want to have that pressure on her.
   "I think if all of us pitch in a little bit each game we will make up for it," she said.
   It was a balanced scoring attack for Hampton, as Price, Lauren Pittman and Kristi Clark each netted nine-point efforts. Clark's nine might have been the biggest nine points of them all.
   Hampton held a 22-20 edge with 3:23 to go in the third quarter, but that was before two-straight three-pointers by Clark pushed the lead out to 28-20 in a matter of 54 seconds.
   Clark nailed another trey before the quarter was out, and Hampton led 33-22 going into the final period. This forced Johnson County to play catch-up.
   "I wanted to win for my coach," Clark said.
   Said Campbell: "That got the momentum going our way. I left her in there, and she deflected the ball a few times. That's what we need from her. Kristi can shoot. But we're just trying to work on her defense a little more, and she will be in there a little more if we can do that."
   Owens scored nine to add to the Lady Longhorn cause. Johnson County faces arguably the top-two teams in the Watauga Conference next week in Elizabethton and Unicoi County, but Tillman remains confident.
   "I think we have a chance with just about anyone that we play, if we all work together and play really hard as a team," she said.
   Hampton will be back in action Monday night against a much-improved Unaka squad. The Lady Bulldogs are hoping to carry the momentum from this win into that contest.
   "I'm hoping that this is going to boost us, and we'll just keep building," Campbell said.