Nolensville is a fourth-year program.
And it’s already in the final four.
The Lady Knights earned a spot in the Class AA semifinals with a 59-44 quarterfinal win over Melrose at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center on Thursday.
“Two years ago, when we got to the sectional and (all our players) were freshmen and sophomores, nobody knew who we were and I knew then this was a special group,” Nolensville coach Chris Ladd said. “Last year we had a setback with Zoe (Piller), but I was so proud of the fact that we still won the district, got to the region semis, almost got to the sectional again. And this year it was, like, ok, it’s time.”
Eighth-ranked Nolensville (28-4) was set to face No. 1 Macon County (33-1) in Friday’s 2:45 p.m. semifinal, but the TSSAA has suspended the tournament for the time being in wake of the coronavirus.
The tournament could hypothetically resume at a later date, but the TSSAA says that would depend on the length of the suspension and the availability of facilities for that to happen.
Should tournament play resume at a later date, they'll face Trevecca signee Keeley Carter, the Miss Basketball winner, who leads Macon Count. That team's only loss was to Westmoreland in November.
Piller led the Lady Knights with 20 points, Grace Baird added 16 and Sydney Mickulin grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds against Melrose (30-6).
“Zoe and Grace, they played fabulous,” Ladd said. “Zoe was all over the boards. We probably should have hit her a few more times. She had some mismatches in there we didn’t take advantage of. Grace was knocking it down from outside like she always does.”
Baird, a Trevecca signee, hit 4 of 11 from 3-point range.
Piller overcame a torn ACL from last season.
“I thought I was never going to be able to run again, to be honest, but I kept on pushing,” said Piller, whose dad, Zach, is a former Titans guard.
She got encouragement from one of her dad’s former teammates who tore his ACL during his final year with the Titans in 2009.
“Keith Bulluck, he called me up and he was, like, ‘Hey, it’s ok. You’re fine, you’ve just got to trust it. Whatever, suck it up,’ ” Piller said. “It was great support from everybody.”
Piller, a 6-foot junior forward, hit 7 of 9 from the floor and 6 of 8 from the foul line.
Mickulin had 11 defensive and three offensive rebounds in addition to eight points.
“What made her dominant was me missing,” kidded Baird, who was 5 of 15 from the floor. “Sydney is very underrated for what she does. She usually cleans up all of our mess whenever we do miss or whenever inside looks aren’t falling.”
Ladd praised Mickulin for playing with a lot of heart.
“I want to hug her for that,” Piller said when she found out how many rebounds her teammate gobbled up. “That’s awesome.”
Senior guard Parker Leftwich was the playmaker with eight assists.
Nolensville had pre-game jitters before its first state tournament appearance in school history, but they disappeared quickly.
“They were very nervous before the game, but we have played at MTSU Camp three summers in a row out on that court and we have talked about being here, and we’ve played tough competition,” Ladd said. “I feel like today we talked like it was a camp game.”
Nolensville enjoyed a 22-8 advantage in second-chance points.
“Zoe and Sydney, they just have a nose for the ball,” Ladd said. “They want to go get it. That just comes from inside.”
Melrose shot only 30% from the floor on 17 of 56 shooting. Golden Wildcats post Destanee Wallace was held to two points, about 13.5 below her average.
Chara Ferguson, a 4-11 guard, led Melrose with 13 points, but the sophomore went 5 of 20 from the floor.
“We put in a special game plan for them,” Ladd said. “If you’ve watched us this year, we’re traditionally a man-to-man team, but we felt like we’d have a lot of trouble guarding them man to man so we played zone exclusively today.”
Nolensville forced Melrose to the outside, where it struggled with a 6-of-29 showing from 3-point range.
The Lady Knights set the tone early, taking a 15-4 lead after the first quarter.
Nolensville held a double-digit lead the rest of the way, leading by as much as 30 in the fourth quarter.
“Today, I think my girls were pretty much nervous,” Melrose coach Ciara Johnson said. “This was our first rodeo, me as a head coach and them as players. A lot of jitters.”
Melrose made its first state appearance since 2003. The Wildcats have come a long way since going 1-21 in 2015.
The loss ended Melrose’s 13-game winning streak.
Nolensville extended its win streak to 18.