• Hiwassee Dam's Kati Estep (14) dives for a loose ball against Atkins in the fourth round of the playoffs on Tuesday at Hiwassee Dam. Photo by RYAN REVOCK
    Hiwassee Dam's Kati Estep (14) dives for a loose ball against Atkins in the fourth round of the playoffs on Tuesday at Hiwassee Dam. Photo by RYAN REVOCK

Hiwassee Dam girls fall to Atkins in Elite 8

Hiwassee Dam – The Hiwassee Dam Lady Eagles were playing with house money entering this year’s regional quarterfinal, and went all-in against No. 12 Atkins in what turned out to be an absolute battle from start to finish.

But this time the cards were not in their favor.

The Camels’ experience playing in tight games all season long – including two nail biters with neighboring 2015 state champ Winston Salem Prep – was apparent, and a big 23-point third quarter by the visitors proved to be deciding factor to edge the Lady Eagles 48-44 from inside the Nest on Tuesday night.

As the Camels made their way to the postgame locker room, Atkins girls basketball coach Louis Lowery was all smiles as he put his arm around the shoulder of Tyler Mercer. Mercer told her coach she had no idea what got into her during the second half, but whatever the reason, she gave the Lady Eagles problems. The guard took advantage of the brief absence of defensive specialist Kameron Forrister and took charge with 3:41 to go in the third quarter. Mercer nailed back-to-back 3’s, then added a layup and an assist during a 14-0 run to put the Camels ahead by six before the buzzer.

“She really came through for us,” Atkins coach Lowery said of Mercer. “She hit some clutch jump shots in the corner… Just a total team effort. Everybody has to do their job.”

A defensive adjustment by the Camels began to give way after Haylie Shope gave the Eagles an eight-point lead on an and-1 play with five minutes left in the third quarter. The Eagles turned it over eight times and could only muster three additional shots in response of Mercer’s breakout run.

“That was kind of the domino effect,” Forrister said. “One turnover turned into five, and we just couldn’t get back in time. And they’re quick, so getting back to defend the long layups are very hard.”

The Lady Eagles were held to just three field goals in the third quarter and 37 percent   (7-of-19) shooting in the second half.

“They put some pressure on us, all kinds of pressure on us,” Hiwassee Dam coach Ray Gutierrez said. “You know, we had a lot of turnovers in the third quarter. I think we ended up having about eight turnovers in the third quarter where we just didn’t get shot. We’re a good shooting team, and we want shots. So not only a good shooting team, but a good offensive rebounding team. And when you turn the ball over, it just prevents both those things.”

The Lady Eagles otherwise started off strong, holding the Camels to just 5-of-19 shooting in the first half. The offense got the early jump on the predominantly large lineup for Atkins. Layups by Haylie Shope and Jessica Beckner (7 points), and a crowd erupting 3 by Zoey Jacobsen at the 4:51 mark put the Eagles on a 9-2 run to start the game. Shope went on to rack up her first eight points in the first half. But late misfires cost the Eagles a potential double-digit lead before halftime.

“First half, at 19-13, I thought that was kind of the turning point of the game. I thought we jumped on them pretty good..And defensively we were really good, just couldn’t make shots there in the second quarter,” Gutierrez said. “What should have been – I know you say should-a, should-a – what should have been maybe a 15-point game going in at halftime.”

Shope went on to finish with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Zoey Jacobsen was 3-of-5 from the 3-point line to finish with nine points, four assists and two steals. Gutierrez  says his goodbyes to seniors Shope, Tasha Raper, Forrister, Kellee Davis and Kati Estep. The Eagles finish the season 30-2 overall, and were winners of 21-straight.

“It’s tough, going out with a loss, but I thought this year was great,” Estep said. “I couldn’t have asked for any better people to do it with.”

Atkins                   8 5 23 12 – 48

Hiwassee Dam  11 8 11 14 – 44

HD: Shope 19, Jacobsen 9, Beckner 7, Wills 3, Estep 3, Floyd 3

Atkins: Mercer 14, Hampton 13, Davenport 7, Carpenter 5, Blakely 4, Muhammed 3.