Lauren March turned in a performance Tuesday night in the District 10-AA Tournament championship game versus Lewis County High School in Hohenwald that solidified her as one of the superior basketball talents in Middle Tennessee. The Tournament MVP, March scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had two huge blocked shots in the fourth quarter in leading the Tigerettes to a 49-46 victory and the District 10-AA Title.
The Tigerettes had a tough task; playing the Lady Panthers on their home floor in front of a huge partisan throng that sported a loud and enthusiastic student section, plus they were also facing the always tough task of beating the same team three times in a season.
David Steely, District 10-AA Coach of the Year had his team well prepared for the battle as the women from Lewisburg played with poise the entire night and stood up to every challenge before them. "We kept telling them, focus on the details of the game and they took control and finished it off," Steely said.
Huge Lewis County Crowd spurs Lady Panthers early
They were packed in on the home side, loud and ready when the game started and the energy sparked the Lady Panthers off to a great start early in the ballgame. The Tigerettes withstood the crowd noise and matched their intensity by playing solid defense and moving the ball around on offense to keep Lewis County off guard.
Danika Hopkins was the defensive beast for the Tigerettes in the first quarter in the backcourt as she continually hounded the Lewis County ball handlers and on one occasion picked their pocket clean and moved the ball up court to Jessica McQueen, who drained a three-pointer to put the Tigerettes up 8-6.
Lewis Co. came back to tie, NeNe McLean pushed MCHS back up by two with a bucket underneath, Taylor McKinney's 3-point play see-sawed the lead back to the Lady Panthers, and then March came through in the clutch to give the Tigerettes a 12-11 first quarter lead.
The crowd got rowdy again and the Lady Panthers fed off the vibes to play inspired ball in the second period as they opened up a five point lead on two occasions, but the Tigerettes got a boost from their traveling faithful and hung tough and eventually cut the lead to just one point on a NeNe McClain steal and lay-up with 2:17 left in the half.
Lewis County scored three straight to lead 22-18, Hopkins answered with a jumper, and then March scored a huge three point play the traditional way to push the Tigerettes up by one point, 23-22. The Lady Panthers scored on a late lay-up to secure a 24-23 halftime lead and everyone in the house felt the championship would come down to the wire.
Eye of the Tigerettes
Championship teams display a never say die attitude and are able to take body punch after body punch and stand tall. The Tigerettes withstood every blow the Lady Panthers would deliver and that poise was never as evident as in the second half of this ballgame.
Lewis County tried to jump out early in the second against the Tigerettes and kept coming and coming to lead by four points early in the period. March would not let Lewis County get away as she scored eight points in the quarter on some great passing from McKenna Moffett who found her twice on pretty passes down in the post. Jakerra Simmons was also huge for MCHS in the 3rd stanza with three huge rebounds and a bucket of her own as the Tigerettes only trailed by two points, at 36-34 after twenty-four minutes of action.
Some games live up to the hype of championship caliber and some do not, this game exceeded the hype meter by a mile. The two teams battled, the two coaches strategized, and the crowd was deafening on both sides as the fourth and final period played out.
The action was back and forth and with 4:59 remaining the women from Lewisburg looked intently at coach Steely's whiteboard during a timeout and came out after the T.O. and executed a beautiful play to March that tied the game at 38.
The biggest play of the game came after another timeout by MCHS with 3:42 to play when the Tigerettes swung the ball back and forth, faked to March in the low post, found McQueen on the right side at the 3 point-line, where she swished it to give the Tigerettes a lead they would not relinquish at 41-38.
March scored six consecutive points to push the lead to 47-38, before Lewis County cam back to score six consecutive points of their own, leaving only 50.9 seconds on the clock and trailing by just three, at 47-44. The teams would trade missed buckets, then NeNe McClain made a huge play for the Tigerettes as she rebounded a missed shot, and passed the ball to Moffett while falling down.
Danika Hopkins hit a pressure free-throw with 16.9 seconds left to make it 48-44, Lewis Co. made a bucket to push back to within two points at 6.8 seconds, and then March would hit a free-throw of her own to extend the lead to 3 points at 49-46 and give Lewis County one last ditch effort with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Lewis County in-bounded the ball, but a blur named McClain stepped in front of the pass and stole the heart of the Lady Panthers and gave the Tigerettes and Coach Steely the coveted District Title by a score of 49-46.
"This is my first district title, I am really excited, and proud for the girls", an elated Steely said after the game. Steely added, "I asked them at the beginning of the year to do this for me (District Title) and now we have bigger goals in mind."
The entire Tigerette squad played a tremendous game and their reward is a trip to the Region 5-AA playoffs, with the first round at MCHS (20-8) on Friday night at 7:00pm versus CPA (18-14).