STORY AND PHOTO BY JAKE DONOVAN
Grace Baird sported an ice pack on her lower back and pain in muscles she never knew existed. It was an experience she’ll gladly take if it meant her Nolensville Lady Knights walking off the gym floor with a victory.
In what turned out to be a far more grueling battle than anyone expected, Nolensville churned out a 39-30 win over Father Ryan in Thursday’s opening round of the Middle Tennessee Invitational Tournament at Franklin High School.
Baird led all players with 15 points on the afternoon, with the junior scoring at least two points in every quarter. Sophomore center Zoe Piller added 11 for the Lady Knights, who will face the hosting Franklin Lady Rebels in Friday’s semifinals.
“We didn’t know what to expect going into this tournament; we certainly didn’t expect such a physical game,” admitted Nolensville head coach Chris Ladd. “But in the end, we’ll take the win.”
Nolensville never trailed during the game, leading 10-0 after one. The Lady Knights carried the shutout more than two minutes into the second quarter before Christine Quitalig drained a three to put the Fighting Irish on the board.
The first part of Father Ryan’s school nickname perfectly fit the team’s game day spirit, spending the rest of the session chipping away at Nolensville’s lead but never quite surging ahead.
“There were points where they got down within ten, even within six at one point, but what I admired about our team is we kept our composure,” noted Ladd.
That level of patience was put to the test in such a physical affair. Baird was temporarily forced out of the game after getting caught with an inadvertent elbow in the 3rd quarter, while Piller and Parker Leftwich (7 points) also suffered game time war wounds.
“It was a really physically game and we didn’t expect it to be that physical,” admitted Baird, who scored her 1,000th career point on December 15, less than halfway through her junior year of high school.
Camryn Broussard (11 points) caught a hot hand late in the third quarter, parlaying the momentum into a 4th quarter rally that saw the Fighting Irish pull within six. Putbacks by Pillen and Sydney Mickulin (6 points) were enough to keep the game just far enough out of reach for the Lady Knights.
“We needed to win like this, overcoming something you don’t expect,” noted Baird. “It’s a good learning lesson heading into the new year.”
Father Ryan will face the Cane Ridge Lady Ravens in the consolation bracket on Friday. Meanwhile, Nolensville is one win from advancing to the tournament finals, facing a hosting Franklin squad whom they doubled up in a 49-24 home win earlier this month.