By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MILLINGTON — Things were getting out of hand for the Bolton Lady Wildcats in the finals of the District 14-3A Girls Basketball Tournament.
The No. 1 seeded Arlington Lady Tigers were ahead 11-2 after the first quarter in the William Osteen Gymnasium Tuesday night. The Lady Tigers advantage grew to 18-2 early in the second quarter.
Then Bolton Head Coach Jason Martin called a timeout and gave some words of encouragement to his young post player Charity Savage.
“We had a conversation about midway through the second quarter,” he recalled. “I told her, ‘If we’re going to stay in this game, you need to put us on your shoulders.’ And the thing is she’s only a sophomore and she did that. She’s a coach’s dream. And she wants that responsibility.”
Savage ended Bolton’s drought with a pair of foul shots and sparked a Lady Wildcat rally. Pressure defense, Savage dominating in the post and the motivation of playing for injured senior guard Destiny Arnold, Bolton fought back to win the championship 38-33.
“Heart, we decided to lock down defensively,” Martin said. “We had a couple of young girls step up. We knew losing our starting point guard was going to be tough. But Taylor Smith stepped up in a huge way defensively. So we decided we were going to get it one stop at a time.”
Arnold suffered a leg injury Saturday in the Semifinal round against the Bartlett Lady Panthers. The freshmen duo of Smith and Heaven Thompson had to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up the ball and guarding Lady Tiger point guard Cheiyanne Norton.
Norton made the score 18-2 after making four foul shots. With the score 18-3, Savage grabbed a rebound off a missed shot and made a bucket to make the tally 18-5.
The Wildcats proceeded with a 7-2 run to make the score 20-13. Savage had 6 points and Thompson used a Euro-step move for a basket.
The Lady Tigers closed out the first half with the final four points coming courtesy of Tori Sewell layup and Norton jumper.
The Bolton defense locked down in the third quarter holding Arlington to 2 points. Meanwhile the Lady Wildcats scored 10 points with Kayla Bolden scoring half. The senior guard hit a triple to make the score 26-21.
When Smith made a layup near the end of the quarter, the Lady Tigers were only ahead 26-23 heading into the fourth quarter.
Lady Tiger center Raegyn Branch kept Arlington ahead early in the period with a jumper and a foul shot. Then Arlington watched its 31-25 lead disappear when Thompson hit a three-pointer, Samaria Grandberry made a steal for a layup and Savage scored with a hop-step move.
The Savage basket gave Bolton its first lead of the game at 32-31. Lady Wildcat Kerrice Watson stole the ball and raced to the other end for bucket making the score 34-31.
Foul shots down the stretch held off the Lady Tigers. The Lady Wildcats had a chance to hoist the championship plaque and honor Arnold.
“It was their idea to let her go out and accept the trophy,” Martin said. “They know what she’s put in for four years. She’s earned it and allowed us to get that opportunity.”
Martin said earning the No. 1 seed in the Region 7-3A Tournament, which starts this Friday at Bolton at 7 p.m., is a reward for his entire senior class of Arnold, Bolden, Grandberry, Kiersten Rodgers and Courtney Rhodes.
“These seniors really haven’t tasted success,” he concluded. “When we came in when they were freshmen, we were always fifth or sixth in the district. So it’s full circle for them to walk off in their last district game as champions. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m just glad they took me along the journey with them.”