‘Battle-tested’ Lady Bulldogs open region tournament against Powell

Jacob Steimer

It’s regional tournament time at Bearden, and the top-seeded Lady Bulldogs are ready to make their run. It took overtime for them to finish off Farragut in the district championship on Monday, a game in which they lost an early lead and had to grind it out late. “I think our defense wasn’t as strong and we weren’t scoring as easily (in the second half),” sophomore guard Erin Walsh said, “but we came out with the win.” The Lady Bulldogs (23-5) have found a number of different ways to get those wins this season, and they will look for another Friday night at 7 in an elimination game against Powell in the regional quarterfinals. BBN’s live coverage will start at 6:55 at www.tssaanetwork.com/bearden . “We’ve had games where we’ve played well, and we’ve had games where we haven’t been as efficient,” Coach Justin Underwood said. “We’ve dealt with being up and also being down. I wouldn’t say that we’ve seen everything, but I think we’ve been battle-tested.” And even if they haven’t seen everything, they have certainly had their share of close games, the most recent one coming on Monday night. “We’ve won every overtime game we’ve gone into, so we don’t plan on losing one of those,” senior guard Jai-Jai McLaughlin said. “If they give us another quarter, we’re going to take full advantage of it and win the game.” Of course, the extra period isn’t a prize Bearden wants to gain. The Lady Bulldogs are hoping they won’t have to face one Friday when they play the Lady Panthers (13-15), a team they beat on the road 48-33 on Feb. 7. However, Powell had a skewed line up that night, trying to give extra minutes to their seniors for senior night. “We’ve already played them so we already know what they do,” McLaughlin said. “We’re ready to see what they throw at us this time with their actual, true starting lineup. “You always get something different thrown at you, but I think we’ve gone through enough that if something is thrown at us, we are all prepared and ready to take care of it.” The Bulldogs go into Friday night, however, already at a disadvantage. The Lady Bulldogs will be without starting senior post player Cozette Gaspard for the second straight game. “It’s just weird because Cozette has been in the starting lineup since the beginning of the season, and just having that person not in there anymore is something to get used to that you have to get used to because every game is do or die from now on,” McLaughlin said. The Lady Bulldogs will look to sophomore Tyler Carter to take the place and fill in the missing rebounds and hustle that Gaspard is known for. But once again, this is a situation that Bearden has faced before. “We’ve had low numbers throughout the year,” Coach Underwood said. “We’ve had some injuries at key times and players have stepped up. When Tyler was injured, Cozette stepped up big; and when Cozette got injured, Tyler stepped up in her place.” And while Carter did replace Gaspard on the floor on Monday, Gaspard wasn’t exactly gone. “You can hear her cheering on the bench,” Walsh said. “So she’s still there.” The winner will move on to play the winner of Anderson County and Maryville in a regional semifinal on Monday. Jacob Steimer is the sports editor for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.