Some would say the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs basketball team have been lucky at this point while rallying from behind in its last-two ballgames.
Of course the Lady Bulldogs will take luck anytime if it gets them to the Final Four.
While overcoming a large deficit in the semifinal round against Father Tolton, the Lady Bulldogs wound up winning that game by seven 60-53. Then, in the championship in the district tournament, New Franklin allowed Harrisburg to rally back in the fourth quarter before pulling away late for a 56-50 victory.
The sectional round of the state tournament also had New Franklin fans on the edge of their seats. While scoring only 12 points in the first-two quarters, the Lady Bulldogs surged ahead in the fourth quarter for a 46-39 victory. Meanwhile, in the quarterfinal round Saturday against Knox County at MACC, the Lady Bulldogs trailed by four (55-51) in overtime with a little over two minutes left before rallying in the final seconds on a shot at the buzzer by senior Aly Hundley for a 60-58 victory.
New Franklin coach Chris McGowan said this team has too much pride to ever quit.
“We sometimes get in trouble when individuals try to do too much, but nobody ever quits,” McGowan said. “We have played some good teams in the postseason, and you have to credit those teams for some of the situations that we have been in. Our experience and composure has certainly played a part in our success. This group has been in some tough spots and has come out victorious, so there is really no reason to panic.”
New Franklin, 28-1 on the season, will have another tough task Thursday night in the semifinal round against the Class 2 defending state champion Crane Lady Pirates. The Lady Pirates, 29-1 on the season, return four starters from last year’s team under head coach Jeremy Mullins.
Tip-off for the New Franklin-Crane game is set for 5 p.m. at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.
Although the Lady Bulldogs returned all five starters from last year’s team under McGowan, he said Crane will be a tremendous challenge.
“They are a very good team which is why they are where they are in the Final Four,” McGowan said. “They will pressure us, and we absolutely must handle their pressure if we are going to be successful in this game.”
Crane may also have a slight advantage after playing for the title last year. New Franklin’s last appearance in the Final Four was in 2009.
McGowan said this is an exciting time for the team and hopefully this group really enjoys the week.
“They have worked for a long time to get to this point, so hopefully they can take time throughout the week to enjoy it,” McGowan said. “It is nice from a coaches perspective to see this group rewarded for the work they have put in for years. We have talked a lot this year about the journey being much more important than the destination, and I really hope that they enjoy this last week that they get to spend together as a group.”
To go along with their one loss of the season against the Sturgeon Bulldogs, who New Franklin beat three times previously, the Lady Bulldogs also closed out the conference season at 11-1 instead of a perfect 12-0.
Nonetheless, New Franklin still managed to win three out of four games against its arch-rival. The first came in the championship in the New Franklin Tournament as the Lady Bulldogs prevailed 43-37. The second, meanwhile, was only six days later on the road at Sturgeon in a conference game by a score of 48-35. As for the third, New Franklin was lucky to get out of Sturgeon alive while rallying late in the championship in the Sturgeon Tournament for a 48-47 victory. Of course all the close games throughout the season finally caught up with New Franklin in the fourth meeting as Sturgeon pretty much led from the opening tip for a convincing 42-31 win.
McGowan said first and foremost, Sturgeon is a very good team that always seems to guard his team well.
“We shot very poorly in that game (21 percent) and Sturgeon had a lot to do with that,” McGowan said. “They just beat s that night. However, that loss was very good for our girls emotionally. Afterwards, a number of the girls talked about being relieved of the pressure of trying to be undefeated. They were playing with a lot of stress and that isn’t conducive to playing good basketball.”
Since the loss to Sturgeon, the Lady Bulldogs have won seven straight games with only one in double digits. The remaining six have been decided by five, two, seven, six, seven and two.
Of course that doesn’t mean the Lady Bulldogs can’t score. Senior Aly Hundley leads three players in double figures for New Franklin at 11.5 ppg, followed by senior Jasmyne Boggs at 11.2 ppg and Madi Lyons at 10.7 ppg.
And if you want defense, the Lady Bulldogs can play a little bit of that as well while holding opponents to 34.96 ppg this season.
For the season, New Franklin is averaging right at 50 ppg.
McGowan said to be a good team, you must have good players.
“We have a number of good players who have really bought into the idea of what they must do to make this group be successful on court,” McGowan said. “Some of our players would put up some very good numbers playing for other teams, but they have different roles for us and they have sacrificed personal glory for the betterment of the team. In order to really be successful in the postseason you must have everyone on the team chipping in to help.
“Opponents will be able to take away some of your better players depending on matchups, so you must have everyone doing their job. It seems like we have had everyone step up at different points in the postseason, and that is what makes this so special. We absolutely would not be at this point if any of the players hadn’t come through when we needed them. It has to be a really good feeling for them individually knowing how integral they are to the group’s success.”
The Lady Bulldogs know all about success with 28 wins in their last 29 games. Thirty would definitely put New Franklin up there as one of the all-time greats in school history.