Chadarryl Clay watched from the sideline as the final eight minutes of her last home game at GPS dwindled away. Seated comfortably, the Bruisers’ point guard and the team’s other four starters were finally free to start thinking about the state tournament.
Playing just three quarters, Clay scored 27 points as GPS built a 65-34 lead. The second unit played out the fourth and a 70-56 final scoreline sent the Bruisers into the Division II-AA state semifinals Friday night.
“It’s high school basketball and it’s not always going to be pretty,” GPS coach Susan Crownover said, “But they played their tails off and did the things I asked them to do, especially those first seven or eight kids.”
The state tournament opens next Friday in Nashville at Lipscomb University. GPS will face Briarcrest Christian at either 3 p.m. or 6:15 in a rematch of last season’s championship game. Ensworth takes on Pope John Paul II in the other semifinal with the winners meeting at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“All week they’ve been talking about next week, next week,” Crownover said. “They’ve been talking about getting to next week and I keep reminding them, you’ve got to win Friday to get to next week.
“They were very confident that they were going to win, and a senior bunch like that, maybe that’s how you roll, I don’t know.”
Despite the confidence, Clay said she felt like her team started sluggish against Harpeth Hall. By the end of the first quarter, a 24-10 lead hid any evidence of lethargy. With 2 minutes, 36 seconds left in the second quarter, Jeneh Perry scored her fourth straight point to cap a 13-4 run that extended the advantage to 37-14.
When all five GPS starters were in the game, Harpeth Hall struggled to beat the Bruisers’ full-court press, leading to 12 turnovers over the first 24 minutes.
“Our strength is our athleticism,” said Crownover, whose starting five features four athletes that have signed Division I scholarships in various sports. “We turn people over. We’re not a half-court team and we don’t want to be a half-court team.”
Since a 2-3 stretch in mid-January triggered by inconsistincies in the lineup for an array of reasons, GPS seems to be peaking heading into the final week of the season. Crownover, who has been critical of her starting unit at times, was full of praise Friday night.
"Jeneh has been playing really well lately," Crownover said of her senior forward, which finished with seven rebounds. "She has been owning the glass. She’s been playing big.
"Chadarryl’s been doing a better job of distributing the ball recently and making the big plays when we need big plays. Tory Kemp does things that go unnoticed. She doesn’t get credit for a lot of things she causes."
Perry finished with 11 points and Simone Busby added 10 for the Bruisers, which have now won nine straight games.
The closest contest during the streak came in the last meeting against Harpeth Hall. The Honeybears got 20 points from Kennedy Potts on Feb. 10, but a late comeback wasn’t enough. GPS won 64-55.
Friday night, Potts again led Harpeth Hall in scoring, this time with 18, but another late surge fell short. With Crownover’s starting rotation on the bench, the Honeybears opened the fourth quarter with an 18-0 run. Back-to-back baskets inside from Finley Bandy, though, kept the margin from closing within 15.
“Hopefully we’ll keep that energy up all the way until next week,” Clay said. “We’re ready. We just want to beat (Briarcrest) again. If we go in there with our minds straight, we should get the win.”