• NaKya Gilliam moves the ball up court during sectional action vs. South Side Saturday night in Covington. Photo by David Perry

There was a sign on the Covington gym wall Saturday night during the Lady Chargers’ sectional game against Jackson South Side that read, “Covington, you know?”

It was a nod to the school’s athletic success.

However, considering South Side was the top-ranked team in the Class AA state poll and that South Side beat Covington’s boys’ basketball team in a sectional game last year and Covington’s softball team in a sectional game the year before that, a sign with the opposite message probably would have made more sense.

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But after Covington’s dramatic 44-41 win, Covington officially has bragging rights.

The Lady Chargers now move on to the Class AA state tournament in Murfreesboro for the fifth time in program history and second time in the last three seasons. Covington plays Macon County Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Middle Tennessee State Murphy Center.

Covington (24-5) led 43-36 with 2:34 left in the game before South Side scored five straight points to make things interesting. CorTayza Flowers made 1 of 2 free throws with 20 seconds left to push the lead back two three points. South Side had one last chance with :01.3 left but was unable to get a shot off and a wild celebration ensued at midcourt.

“We put in a lot of hard work and we’re glad to be going back,” said senior Kalynn Howard while being congratulated by countless people. “We’re going to the Glass House.”

“It feels amazing,” said senior Felia Fayne. “We worked so hard for this moment.”

South Side entered the game with a 22-1 record, with its only loss coming to Westview, which also advanced to the state tournament Saturday night, in the Region 7-AA title game last week.

Things couldn’t have gone much better early for Covington. Flowers and Shamya Butler each hit 3-pointers during a 15-0 Covington run that staked the Lady Chargers to a 17-4 lead after one quarter.

Covington’s lead was still 10 points at halftime, but Fayne, Flowers and DiNiyasia Robinson, all starters, each had three fouls at the half and that played a major factor in the second half.

Fayne and Robinson each left the game after picking up their fourth fouls in the third quarter and South Side closed the period on a 10-2 run to pull within three points.

Robinson fouled out with 5:46 left and Covington leading by five.

“I was worried because I wasn’t out there with my teammates,” Robinson said.

Covington head coach Katrisha Glass acknowledged foul trouble was an issue. Sophomores Kayla Pitts and Butler played more down the stretch than they normally would have and performed well.

“We practiced all the situations you might face,” Glass said. “I tell the girls to be ready when your name is called and just be ready and know your role.”

Fayne, who did not have a field goal in the first half, scored six straight points in the fourth quarter to finish with eight and give Covington enough cushion to hold off South Side’s late push. Howard and Robinson each finished with 10 points and Flowers had eight.

Sharnecce Currie-Jelks, a 6-3 junior, did most of the damage for South Side. She scored five points in the fourth quarter to finish with 12, but Covington held here scoreless in the third quarter.

Glass said the game plan was to pressure South Side’s guards to make entry passes to Currie-Jelks difficult. That strategy worked for the most part.

“The girls were locked in and focused and they executed the game plan,” Glass said. “We had key players foul out, but those young players stepped up and did exactly what they were supposed to do.”

“A lot of people doubted us and thought South Side was going to beat us,” Robinson said. “Hard work speaks when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Macon County beat Covington 56-38 in the first round of the 2019 state tournament. Glass and her players celebrated Saturday night, but their focus is now on Macon County. Covington also lost in the first round of the state tournament in 2002 and 2013.

“I couldn’t be more proud, but it’s not over,” Glass said. “We’ve got Macon County again. We want to make some noise, not just show up.”