Heading into the 1990- 91 season, the Henry County High School Lady Patriot basketball team had more question marks than answers and there probably wasn’t anyone giving odds on even a longshot drive to reach the Class AAA state tournament. But nobody told the Lady Patriots that and they did battle their way all the way to the program’s first state tournament appearance under the guideance of head coach Jim Rushing and assistant Bill Lax. The reason the Lady Patriots had questions was the team headed into the season with just one returning starter and only two other players who saw any significant action from the season before. Senior Renae Lassiter was a returning All-District 10-AAA performer at point guard. Lassiter was always referred to as a coach on the floor by her coaches and she needed to be one with the Lady Patriots being so inexperienced. Fellow senior Tonya Sensing had seen limited action in the 1989-90 season while junior Angie Gallimore had played a bit more. Sensing was lost early in her senior season to a knee injury. Gallimore started for the Lady Patriots as a junior and was an All-District Tournament selection. That opened the door for a group of Lady Patriot sophomores to step in to play huge roles. Led by future district MVP Kitty Allen, the group offered size, speed, scoring ability and athleticism to play defense. The group also included Alice Jackson, April Crain and Mary Grace Morris. Other players who played in at least one game that season were Carrie Vance, Bridget Williams, Jacque Haynes and Lee Ann Renfroe. Let’s take a look at the magical season that ended with a 49-43 loss to Dyersburg in the state tournament’s opening round at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro. LADY PATRIOTS GROW ALL SEASON Henry County’s girls battled to a 19-12 record in 1990-91 that included a 6-4 mark in District 10-AAA games. The four district losses came in matchups with Cheatham County and Dickson County. The Lady Patriots knocked off Dickson County 60-45 in the semifinals of the district tournament played at Austin Peay State University’s Dunn Center in Clarksville, but lost to Cheatham County 56-51 in the championship game. Henry County moved on to the Region 5-AAA Tournament that was held at Vol State Community College in Gallatin. The Lady Patriots beat Franklin 60-57 and upended Mount Juliet 46-45 to get a fourth matchup with Cheatham County in the region championship game, but they lost to the Lady Cubs 51-45. Still the Lady Patriots moved on to the sectional tournament, but had to travel to Hillwood High School in Nashville. The game turned into a real barn-burner with the Lady Patriots simply refusing to lose. Allen put the team on her shoulders in two overtime periods with her unstoppable baseline drives finally delivering a 57-54 victory. Fans poured out of the stands to lift Rushing on their shoulders and celebrate the first HCHS basketball team to qualify for the state tournament. LASSITER STANDS OUT AS SENIOR Lassiter was a four-year player at HCHS whose game grew each season. As a senior, she averaged 12.9 points per game and hit 84 3-point shots which is still a record for the Lady Patriots’ program. She made the All-District team for the second straight season and was on the All-District Tournament squad. She was the floor leader who led the team in assists. Lax told me after the season that none of it might have happened without Lassiter coming to coaches to ask them to play Allen more early in the season. She asked them to let her take her under her wing and promised they wouldn’t be disappointed and nobody was. Lassiter went on to a successful playing career at Bethel in McKenzie before returning to Henry County to serve as head coach at Inman and HCHS. She is currently an assistant coach for the Lady Patriots and serves as the middle school athletic director. SOPHS START CAREERS WITH BANG Once Allen became a fixture in the starting lineup, the Lady Patriots became very, very hard to beat. She offered size and was a super athlete. There wasn’t anything in the game of basketball that she wasn’t good at. Allen averaged a teamhigh 13.2 points a game as she began a run that netted her two district Most Valuable Player honors, All-State selections and a spot on the All-State tournament team in 1992-93. She would go on to have a strong career at Memphis State in college and has coached girls’ basketball at several Memphis area schools. Jackson stood over 6 feet tall and gave the Lady Patriots another player who could handle the ball, shoot from the outside, score on the inside and defend. She would earn All-District honors her next two seasons. Crain brought instant offense off the Lady Patriots’ bench in 1990-91. A speedy player who could get off shots even when under extreme pressure, she averaged 6.5 points for the season. She would also become a consistent All-District pick later in her career and went on to play in college at Columbia State. Morris filled the guard spot alongside Lassiter. A good ballhandler and defender, she added 13 3-point baskets. She earned All-Region Tournament honors as a sophomore and was an All-District tournament pick the next two seasons. TEAM LEARNS HOW TO ADVANCE The 1990-91 Lady Patriots weren’t district champions and didn’t win the region championship. They simply won enough games to keep advancing before getting the breakthrough win over Hillwood in the sectional round of the playoffs. That’s a good lesson as the current Lady Patriots wait for the snow to melt this weekend. The Lady Patriots will be the fourth seed for the upcoming District 10-AAA Tournament, but simply have to win the right games and that elusive fourth trip to the state tournament could come their way. Go Big Red! TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at sports@parispi.net.

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