MT. JULIET — With many greats from Mt. Juliet’s past watching, the Lady Bears punched their 14th state tournament ticket by punching out Franklin 61-43 from the TSSAA Class AAA sectional Saturday night.
Franklin got in the first punch with early leads of 3-0 and 5-2. But Mt. Juliet got the lead behind posts Ronjanae DeGray and Sally McCabe. The Lady Bears went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to turn a 27-20 lead into a 36-20 blowout as they captured their 29th triumph in 30 outings this season.
“That’s been the story of the season,” Mt. Juliet coach Chris Fryer said. “A lot of teams in the first quarter this season we kind of feel them out and they feel us out. Sometimes we’re behind and sometimes we’re ahead.
“Our past history, the last 20 year, or 16 that I’ve been here, the good teams we’ve had jumped out to big leads. We’ve knocked them out in the first quarter. That has not been the case with this team this year. The first quarter is usually always a battle. I try not to get too crazy after the first quarter. We could be behind, we could be ahead. and usually it’s pretty close.”
DeGray totaled 24 points and McCabe 22 as Mt. Juliet’s inside game was too strong for the Lady Rebels, who finished a 19-12 campaign. Raeyana DeGray added eight points, Skye Riggan three and Tyia Waller and Ashley Roby two each.
“We challenged our kids at halftime to post up, to show up and to be alert and I thought we did a better job in the second half,” said Fryer, who saw good passing, not just from his guards into the post, but also within the interior as well.
“Some people don’t realize this, but Sally is our leading assists player,” Fryer said of the 6-foot-2 Belmont-signee. “She has more assists on the season than anybody we have. She’s also our leading scorer. She is a tremendous interior passer. And Ron has really improved on it as well and so has Rae. Those are good things when we can feed the post and pass to each other.”
Angela McPeek poured in three 3-pointers in leading the Lady Rebels with 14 points.
Mt. Juliet will play Wednesday in the state tournament at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center. A blind draw will be held Sunday afternoon to determine the pairings. It will be coach Fryer’s seventh trip to state, breaking a tie with his predecessor, Tommy Martin.
Many of Fryer’s past players were on hand for Saturday’s win.
“That ’05 [state champions] bunch, a lot of them were here,” said Fryer, who also saw past Miss Basketball finalists Jennifer Johnson and Caya Williams. “I saw Alysha Clark here and Casey [Pigue] and Christian [Gibson]. It was exciting to see them come back home and support these girls in 2014.”