PORTLAND Beech High senior guard Deja Smith scored a lot of points in the District 9-AAA semifinal matchup against second-seeded Mt. Juliet.
It was the little things that Smith and her team did in the fourth quarter that gave the No. 6 seed an upset of the Lady Bears.
Lady Buccaneer freshman Kennedy Powell pulled down four rebounds over the final four minutes, and Smith came up with two steals late in the contest to help Beech capture a 47-34 win at Portland High School
Beech advanced to face top-seeded Wilson Central – a 55-31 winner over fifth-seeded Lebanon in Saturday’s other semifinal – in Tuesday evening’s championship game.
Smith also scored nine of her game-high 27 points over the final 3:30 to help seal the win.
“I think our lower classmen stepped up, and they were shooting confidently,” Smith said. “The crowd boosted our confidence a lot, and I think that’s a big part of the past two wins that we have right now.”
Beech (11-19) opened up the tournament with a 49-46 win over No. 3 seed Hendersonville in Thursday evening’s quarterfinal round.
The Lady Buccaneers opened up an eight-point lead late in the third quarter before a rally eventually gave the Lady Bears the lead.
A pair of free throws from Mt. Juliet senior forward Karly Dyer followed by a free throw from freshman forward Payton Brumbach gave the Lady Golden Bears a 31-30 lead with 4:30 remaining.
Beech junior guard McCall Decker knocked down her second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter, and Smith followed with a layin that pushed the Lady Buccaneers advantage to four points.
Following a 3-pointer by Mt. Juliet junior guard Cassidy Harris, Beech freshman Kennedy Powell rebounded her own miss and passed to classmate Destiny Tinker for a wide-open layin, giving the Lady Buccaneers a 38-34 lead with 1:50 remaining.
The 3-pointer from Harris was the final points for Mt. Juliet as Beech held the Lady Bears scoreless over the final three minutes.
“To be honest, I never thought we could make it to a district championship game,” Beech interim head coach Troy Carnes said. “It’s phenomenal to watch with us finishing the game with three ninth-graders on the floor, with them handling the (full-time) press and handling a big-time, district game. The plays that those girls made – Deja is going to be Deja every night – but for them to play that way and not to just guard, but to score as well, I don’t know if you could ask any more of them.”
Beech outrebounded Mt. Juliet by an 11-2 margin during the fourth quarter and found success finishing the game at the free-throw line, making 8 of 11.
“Those threes McCall hit were huge,” Smith said. “We have a lot of confidence in her to shoot the shots, and everyone made so many plays for us. It feels great to be going to the district championship, especially after not making it the past two years. It feels great.”
Early on, Mt. Juliet relied on its interior play, with Dyer and junior forward Tavie Bell controlling the paint to help their squad score the game’s first eight points. The tandem combined for 13 of their team’s 15 first-half points, but Beech responded by utilizing a 2-3 zone defense to limit Dyer and Bell.
With the zone giving Mt. Juliet (16-9) problems, Beech managed to work back into the contest as Smith connected for a pair of 3-pointers late in the first half.
Smith’s 3-pointer just prior to the halftime buzzer gave the Lady Buccaneers its first lead of the contest at 16-15.
Tinker’s free throw at the 1:29 mark of the third quarter capped an 8-0 run and gave the Lady Buccaneers a 27-19 lead.
“We started in a 1-3-1 zone, and they pounded us inside,” Carnes – whose squad suffered losses of 48-31 and 35-28 to the Lady Bears during the regular season – said. “We had to do something else to try and stop their post play. They have some pieces inside that are hard for anyone in the district to match up with.”
Beech was last in the district championship game in 2014, falling to Mt. Juliet. With Saturday’s win also came a home game in Friday’s Region 5-AAA Tournament quarterfinals.
Tinker backed Smith’s offensive production, scoring seven points.
Dyer led Mt. Juliet with 16 points, and Bell scored eight points.
BEECH (47) – Deja Smith 27, Destiny Tinker 7, McCall Decker 6, Reese Taylor 4, Kennedy Powell 2, Kendra Mueller 1.
MT. JULIET (34) – Karly Dyer 16, Tavie Bell 8, Cassidy Harris 6, Julia Maki 3, Payton Brumbach 1.
Half: 16-15, Beech. Three-point goals: Beech 5 (Smith 3, Decker 2), Mt. Juliet 3 (Harris 2, Maki 1). Records: Beech 11-19, Mt. Juliet 16-9.