Cocke County-Heritage

Seeing Red: Lady Red advance to first Final Four since 1958


MURFREESBORO – In March 1958, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ by Elvis and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ by Little Richard were near the top of the charts. Bobby Fischer won the U.S. Chess Championship at the age of 14 during that year. The Great Chinese Famine began in 1958. The Broadway musical ‘My Fair Lady’ opened in London. The New York Yankees won the World Series in seven games over the Milwaukee Braves. Cocke County advanced to the state semifinals.

That’s what was going on in the world the last time the Lady Red made the TSSAA Final Four. Cocke County, led by Emily Williams, defeated Hornbeak — which later consolidated into Obion County HS — 60-59 in the Elite 8, before falling to Loretto 53-38 in the semis.

Karmine Carmichael

Cocke County’s Karmine Carmichael (23) goes up for a layup while Heritage’s Chloe Heath (30) defends. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and was in his second term in 1958. It might be safe to say that Lady Red head coach Boddie Bible is revered in the same light as President Eisenhower around Newport right now, as the first-year coach has taken this team to unfathomable heights.

“I am so blessed to be the coach of Cocke County High School,” Bible said after the game. “Dr. (Robert) Vick and Dr. (A.C.) Willis believed in me and gave me an opportunity with no head coaching experience at the high school level. I’ve coached these kids since they’ve been younger, most of them, and we’ve got a really strong bond. Everybody talks about family, but we truly are.

Bible said there is no time to reflect on his or this team’s accomplishments, however, as his team has another tough game on Friday night and is simply living in the moment.

“We won on Saturday and then we made arrangements to come down on Wednesday, so honestly, I haven’t had time to reflect on it,” said Bible. “Not being here in 36 years, we’re not accustomed to having to make those arrangements, but our community really stepped up more than we could ever imagine in helping us get here. I tell (the girls) that we’ll talk about how good we were later, and I’ve got to do the same thing as a coach, but we’re just staying in the moment and we’re going to get ready and try to win tomorrow night as well.”

Cocke County had to overcome a 17-3 first quarter deficit and slowly chipped away at that deficit until it found itself leading in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, but the Lady Red persevered and came away with a 55-53 win to advance to the Final Four for the first time in 66 years.

Chloe Heath

Heritage’s Chloe Heath (30) goes up for a basket while Cocke County’s Halle Kitchen (13) defends. Photo by Brian Hamilton

“We just kept telling them, in those timeouts, that we’ve been in this situation a lot this year,” Bible said. “If you look at our schedule, we’ve won a lot of games by single-digits and it paid dividends for us tonight. We didn’t panic when our backs were against the wall.”

“I kept telling them that, Cocke County, they fight, and they’ve fought all year long,” Heritage coach Rick Howard said after the game. “They’re real scrappy and my hat’s off to them. They just kept fighting and got it close and we just went cold there once we got up. I don’t know how many shots we missed, but there was a lot that we could have made. It’s part of basketball and you’ve got to live with it.”

Cocke County got on the board first when Shakyra Reed split a pair of free throws to put the Lady Red in front 1-0, but Heritage’s Carsyn Swaney would give the Lady Mountaineers a 2-1 advantage roughly one minute with a jumper. A layup by senior Jay Coker would stretch the Heritage lead to 4-1 with 5:13 left in the first quarter.

Blakelyn Clevenger scored a layup in the paint to cut the Cocke County deficit to 4-3 with five minutes left in the period, but the Lady Red would then surrender 13 consecutive points to Heritage, as Swaney scored a pair of baskets, followed by a three by Chloe Heath and back-to-back threes by freshman Faith Morris.

With just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Lady Red had their backs against the wall, down 17-3, and were on the verge of being ran slap out of the Murphy Center.

Clevenger would then respond with a layup in the paint to make the score 17-5 and Cocke County would close the first quarter on a 7-0 run to slice the deficit to 17-10.

“Blake Clevenger put us on her back there for about four minutes,” Bible said. “She’s the greatest competitor I’ve ever coached and she willed us into that game.  I’ve got tough kids and that’s about all I can say about it.”

Blakelyn Clevenger

Cocke County’s Blakelyn Clevenger goes up for a three during the Lady Red’s 55-53 state semifinal win over Heritage Thursday evening. Photo by Brian Hamilton

“I needed to get us going. We were dead,” Clevenger said of her play in the first quarter.

Swaney responded with a three to open the second quarter, putting Heritage up 20-10, but a three by Cocke County’s Adisen McNealy, followed by a Karmine Carmichael layup trimmed the Lady Red deficit to 20-15 with 5:30 left in the first half.

Heath nailed a three to stretch the lead to 23-15, but Halle Kitchen responded with a triple of her own to make the score 23-18 with just over five minutes left in the half.

Kitchen would hit a layup on an assist by Clevenger to trim the Heritage lead to 23-20 with 3:26 left in the second quarter, but Coker answered with a three-pointer for the Lady Mountaineers, making the score 26-20.

Heritage would take a 28-23 lead into the locker room at the half. The Lady Highlanders finished the first half shooting at a 60-percent clip from three-point range, while Cocke shot only 28-percent from deep and were 3-of-9 from the foul line.

A layup by Carmichael early in the third quarter trimmed the Cocke County deficit to 28-26, followed by a pair of Clevenger free throws which tied the game at 28-28 with just over five minutes left in the period.

The Lady Red took its first lead since 1-0 when Kitchen drove for a layup with 4:25 left in the third, making the score 30-28. Heath answered with a layup on the other end to tie the game at 30-30.

A layup by Heath would put Heritage back in front 32-31, but a triple by Clevenger gave Cocke County a 34-32 lead, followed by a Reed layup, making the score 36-32 with 2:16 left in the quarter.

Chloe Heath would then go on a 7-0 run of her own, as the junior forward sank a pair of jumpers, followed by a long-range three to put the Lady Mountaineers back in front 39-36 with 1:19 left in the third.

Clevenger then converted two pairs of free throws late in the period to give the Lady Red a 40-39 advantage heading into the final stanza.

The final quarter was a back-and-forth rollercoaster ride, as both teams traded leads and momentum shifts.

Cocke County's Karmine Carmichael (23) blocks a shot by Heritage's Chloe Heath during the Lady Red win. Photo by Brian Hamilton

Heath opened the fourth quarter by hitting a layup to put Heritage back in front 41-40 and a pair of Swaney free throws would put the Lady Mountaineers ahead 44-41 with 4:34 remaining.

Carmichael answered with a layup, however, to cut the Heritage lead to 44-43, which was followed by an Abby Niethammer layup and three-point play, which gave Cocke County a 46-44 advantage with 3:18 remaining.

Aleyah Smith calmly sank a pair of free throws for Heritage to tie the score at 46-46 with 2:17 remaining, but Carmichael answered with a jumper in the paint to give the Lady Red a 48-46 lead with 1:37 to go.

Swaney came down on the other end and sank a pair of foul shots to tie the game at 48-48, but Reed hit a layup on the other end to give Cocke County a 50-48 lead with 1:16 left in the game.

Reed fouled Swaney on the other end and the junior phenom once again calmly converted both free throw attempts to tie the game at 50-50 with just over one minute remaining.

After McNealy split a pair of free throws, Swaney came down the other end and scored a basket and was fouled by Clevenger — her fifth — and converted the three-point play to give Heritage a 53-51 lead with just 34 seconds remaining.

McNealy was fouled on the other end and made one-of-two free throws to make the score 53-52, but Heritage was unable to get the rebound and Carmichael was fouled, sending her to the line with 18 seconds left.

Carmichael drained both free throws to give Cocke County a 54-53 lead.

“Our free throw shooting has not been the best this year, but we have worked on it,” Bible said. “I think, Karmine, it helps her sometimes. We talk about routine, but there’s no moment too big for her. We just worry about doing what we can do and letting the results take care of themselves.”

Swaney turned the ball over on the ensuing Heritage possession, as Faith Miller missed a pass on the baseline. The Lady Mountaineers fouled Carmichael, sending the freshman back to the line.

Carmichael converted 1-of-2 free throws with seven seconds remaining and Heritage called timeout, with the opportunity of drawing up a play to either win the game or send it to overtime.

The Lady Mountaineers went for the tie, as Swaney drove the lane and put up a shot off the glass that rolled out as the buzzer sounded, giving the Lady Red a 55-53 win and sending them soaring into the semifinals for the first time in almost seven decades.

“I thought it was going to go in or that I would get the foul call,” Swaney said of the potential game-tying shot. “Coach said I would make it nine times out of 10. I was confident.”

“It was either going to pick and pop right there. I told her that if they’re not high, shoot the three and if they’re up high, take it to the hole like she always does,” said Howard. “She makes that shot 99-out-of-100 times. I’d do it (the same way) every time.”

Carsyn Swaney led all scorers with 21 points, while Chloe Heath added 19. Aleyah Smith also finished with 11 rebounds for the Lady Highlanders.

Cocke County was led by Blakelyn Clevenger’s 16 points, while Karmine Carmichael added 13 points and eight rebounds. Senior leader Halle Kitchen was held to eight points on the night.

“I told them every timeout that we were the toughest team in the state,” Bible said. “We may not be the most talented, but I’ve told them all year that I don’t know what the ceiling has been for this team, but we’re still playing and there’s only four teams still playing. I know one thing for a fact, and that’s that we won’t ever go out without a fight.”

The Lady Red (29-8) will face Dyersburg (29-4) in the first Class 3A semifinal on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. Heritage’s season comes to an end, as the Lady Highlanders finished with a record of 30-4.




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