Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — A three-headed monster. That’s what Peebles has.
Jacey Justice. Lilly Gray. Payton Johnson.
Each has the ability to drop 20 on any given night and each has their own set of skills to leave opposing defenses scratching their heads.
While that trio led the way on Thursday, it took a total team effort to top state-ranked Berne Union by a 56-51 final in a Division III regional semifinal at Southeastern High School.
Survive and advance. That’s all it’s about at this point.
Justice was sensational … and that’s underselling it at best. But what else is new?
The Western Carolina commit was double-teamed, triple-teamed and swarmed to at every dribble. She still scored a game-high 30 points and was never better than when the game was on the line.
And, she hit her lay-ups, which she joked about not being able to do after the district final win over Trimble.
“I was just thinking, ‘I have to get to the rim’ if I’m being honest,” Justice said. “[Berne Union] had really good defenders. They were really fast and they were hard to get around. They’re definitely hard to finish around.”
While Justice was engineering recurring nightmares, Gray and Johnson began to slowly chip in. By the end of the game, both were in double-digit scoring figures and both helped space the floor just enough to where Justice had room to roam.
“They were on me like glue and I was just getting tired of it,” Johnson said, smiling. “I just wanted to get around her and I wanted to win so bad. I just had opportunities late.”
Justice started the night’s scoring with 6:31 to go in the first quarter before Emily Blevins, Sophia Kline and Baylee Mirgon ripped off a 7-0 run to put the Rockets ahead with 2:22 to go.
Justice then dialed long distance with 2:05 left, cutting the deficit to two, before Blevins followed suit for a 10-5 tally. Gray ended the quarter’s scoring with 52.8 seconds left, trimming BU’s lead to 10-7 after one.
After Sophia Kline and Blevins hit back-to-back lay-ins to begin the second, Gray nailed two free throws for a 15-9 count. But the Rockets then went on a 5-0 run to take a 20-9 edge — their largest lead of the night.
Gray stopped the run before Justice scored twice to bring Peebles back to within seven at 22-15. Then, with 2:33 left, Johnson hit her only 3 of the night to make it 22-18.
By halftime, Berne Union’s lead was 27-22 … but the Indians looked as if they were figuring things out.
“We didn’t give up. Even if we were literally not making anything, [we knew that we couldn’t] give up. Eventually, the momentum will start to turn our way. It might take a bit, but yeah.”
The third was nip and tuck throughout.
Mirgon put Berne Union up 31-26 with 5:03 left before Sophia Kline made it a 35-28 lead with 3:31 to go. But that’s when Justice and company went to work.
Justice hit two jumpers, one a deep ball, to make it 37-33 before Johnson hit 4-of-4 free throw tries to tie the game — for the first time since 0-0. Kline then scored again, beating the buzzer, to put the Rockets ahead 39-37 heading into the fourth.
Johnson began the fourth with 1-of-2 free throws before Justice gave Peebles a 40-39 lead with 5:53 to go — the Indians’ first lead since the 6:31 mark in the first. Justice then scored again, followed by a score from Johnson with 3:55 left to cap an 11-2 run.
Peebles, with a 44-39 lead, held its five-point edge at 48-43 with 1:11 left. The Rockets cut the lead to 48-47 before the Indians hit 8-of-8 free throws down the stretch to put a seal-tight lid on the biggest program win in years.
“Once we took that lead, I knew we were going to take off with it,” Justice said. “I knew that once we’re on top, we usually are pretty good at staying on top.”
Blevins paced the Rockets with 24 points while Sophia Kline added 15 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Mirgon added six points and Bella Kline posted four points, seven boards and four assists.
Justice led all scorers with 30 points alongside a pair of assists while Johnson added 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. Gray also had 12 points and Marissa Moore totaled two points and five rebounds.
The Indians will now look towards a matchup with Waterford in a Division IV regional final at 7 p.m., Saturday at Southeastern.
The winner heads to Dayton.
“We just have to keep pushing through,” Justice said. “Even when we’re down, we have to know not to give up and to come back. That’s the key for us.”
Peebles: 7-15-15-19 — 56
Berne Union: 10-17-12-12 — 51
Peebles: 20-42 FG, 13-18 FT, 3-7 3pt., 19 rebounds (Moore 5), 14 turnovers, 8 assists (Johnson 4). Scoring: Justice 30, Gray 12, Johnson 12, Moore 2.
Berne Union: 19-45 FG, 9-11 FT, 4-14 3pt., 21 rebounds (S. Kline 11), 18 turnovers, 11 assists (B. Kline 4). Scoring: Blevins 24, S. Kline 15, Mirgon 6, B. Kline 4, Evans 2.