by Anthony S. Puca
"Who would have ever believed we would still be here," MCHS head coach David Steely said after his young Tigerette squad defeated Livingston Academy 41-32 to advance to the TSSAA Championship game.
The win exemplified the Steely style of play with an all-around team effort, using defensive pressure to cause 17 Livingston turnovers, a solid strategy to break the Lady Wildcats full-court press, a balanced scoring attack, and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Marshall County crowd spurs Tigerettes in
They were all there, the backbone parents, friends, and relatives who have been present all year, the blue and white faced student section that has hassled opposing teams down near the Tiger on the wall all year, school administrators from throughout Marshall County and the surrounding counties, and even the Forrest Lady Rockets were there to cheer their friends on to victory.
The familiar combination of Lauren March and McKenna Moffett opened the scoring for the Tigerettes when Moffett found March in the low post on their first possession to go up 2-0. The Lady Wildcats scored the next seven points to open a 7-2 lead before March quelled the run with another basket down low to pull the Tigerettes within three, at 7-4.
A free throw by Livingston and a Tigerette turnover forced Steely to call a timeout and calm his troops down. Whatever Steely told his girls in the huddle worked because Jakerra Simmons immediately came up with a steal and Moffett made them pay with a three-pointer to bring the Tigerettes within one point, 8-7.
MCHS would not allow another point by Livingston in the quarter and when Moffett found March underneath with just under a minute to play, the Tigerettes seized a 9-8 lead and would never trail in the game the rest of the night.
The Tigerettes forced a turnover on Livingston's first possession of the second quarter and a NeNe McLean rebound and put-back gave the Tigerettes an 11-8 lead. The Lady Wildcats came back to tie the game on a three-pointer and after the two teams exchanged turnovers, Simmons answered with a low post bucket on a pass from Danika Hopkins to move out 13-11.
Livingston would tie the game again and it would stay that way until the very end of the quarter when McLean sliced and diced in the lane for a pretty jumper at the halftime buzzer to give MCHS the lead 17-15. As the girls ran off to the locker room for the break, the crowd went ballistic in support and the Tigerettes confidence was cemented.
sets tone in 3rd
Danika Hopkins, usually known for her shrink wrap defensive style, set the offensive tone for the Tigerettes at the outset of the third period as she went on a five point tear to build a seven point 22-15 lead for the Tigerettes. In the pressroom after the game, Hopkins smiled and said, "On the second basket, the three-pointer, I said to myself, you can't shoot and then boom there it was."
Hopkins' outburst lit a fire under the Tigerettes offensively and it led to two more three-point baskets early by McKenna Moffett and Jessica McQueen that built an eight point, 28-20 lead for the Tigerettes. The Lady Wildcats would not go away as they scored five straight to cut the lead to three at 28-25.
Both squads did not score for a two minute stretch before NeNe McLean hit another buzzer beater on a beautiful driving shot to the basket that gave the Tigerettes a 30-25 lead going into the final eight minutes.
4th Quarter defensive battle goes to Tigerettes
The fourth quarter started with three turnovers before Livingston's Allison West nailed a three to get her team within two points 30-28. MCHS finally got on the board with a Simmons rebound and put-back at 5:48 left. Another offensive drought, brought on by great defensive play by both teams ran to the midway point of the quarter.
Livingston was pressing and March filled the heart as she described her role after the game to relieve some of the pressure on the backcourt. The backcourt did a fantastic job down the stretch of taking care of the ball and they kept finding March in the middle of the court where she fed to the wings after crossing half-court.
Livingston cut the lead to 32-30 on two free throws by Kendra Kilgore after what looked to be a clean block by March. MCHS brought the ball up-court where McQueen was trapped by the Lady Wildcat defense, when she alertly called timeout at the 2:33 mark.
March was fouled on the ensuing possession and hit one of two from line to make it 33-30. Simmons rebounded an attempted reverse lay-up by Livingston, but the Tigerettes turned the ball back to Livingston, who called timeout at the 1:53 mark.
Both teams missed free-throws and the clocked ticked to 56.1 when Moffett was fouled and calmly hit both charity shots for a 35-30 lead. McQueen then rebounded a Livingston miss and was fouled at 46.6. McQueen hit one of two to make it 36-30 and the crowd was sensing victory.
Livingston went cold at the wrong time as they missed two shots within the last forty seconds and March and McQueen sealed the deal from the line, hitting five attempts down the stretch to secure the 41-32 victory and send the Tigerettes to the threshold of glory.