After scratching and clawing to defeat Lewis County in the District championship game four days earlier, the Marshall County Tigerettes (30-0) encountered some easy prey in the first round of the Region 5-AA tournament on Friday, as they thrashed fourth seeded Ezell-Harding 69-27 at Dottie Kelso Gymnasium.
MCHS buried the Lady Eagles (13-18) early by racing out to a 44-15 lead in the first half before forging a 45-point advantage at the end of the third quarter to coast to their 44th straight victory.
Having exclusively faced District 10-AA opponents the past six and a half weeks, Marshall County head coach Boyd West believed that the unfamiliarity between the two teams played to the Tigerettes' advantage.
"It's a whole lot easier. You can watch all the film you want, but until you play a team, you don't really know how to guard them or what their weaknesses are. That really benefits us because we had the advantage athletically tonight," said West. "We were trying to see how we matched up with the other District. We wanted to send a message to those teams that we are for real."
MCHS scored almost at will the first three quarters of the contest and finished with 28 field goals on 50 percent shooting, highlighted by a 10-of-11 shooting performance in the first period.
The Tigerettes, meanwhile, completely disrupted Ezell-Harding's offensive attack with their full court press. Marshall County recorded 25 steals and forced 37 Lady Eagle turnovers, while limiting Ezell-Harding to just 11 baskets on 31 percent shooting.
"We worked a lot on the press this week. We thought our pressure would give them a lot of trouble," said West. "Ezell-Harding has five or six girls that can hurt you from three-point range, but if they can't get the ball past half court then you take that out of play," said West.
Center Lauren March and power forward Jakerra Simmons punished the Lady Eagles in the paint. March led MCHS with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting to go a along with 11 rebounds, three steals, and one blocked shot, while Simmons hit 5-of-7 shots and finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three steals, and one blocked shot.
"We wanted to get the ball down into the low post. We didn't think they matched up with us down low. I think we have the capability to dominate down low against the teams from that District," said West.
Kanesha McLean also tallied 11 points, five assists, and five steals, while LaRhonda O'Neal added nine points and three steals. DaRhonda O'Neal (four points), Marina Harwell (four points), Artavia Bryant (three points), and Delorean Taylor (two points) rounded out the scoring for the Tigerettes.
Brandi Earps paced Ezell-Harding with 14 points, while Kayla Eakes had seven points.
The score was tied 5-5 early in the first before the Tigerettes got things rolling and put together a 19-4 run behind eight points from McLean and four points from Simmons to claim a 24-9 lead at the end of the quarter.
Earps hit a jumper at the start of the second to briefly interrupt the MCHS onslaught, but Marshall County ripped off 12 straight points, highlighted by a three-point play from March and a LaRhonda O'Neal trey, to build a 36-11 advantage midway through the period.
After Earps scored on a layup to make it 36-13, Marshall County closed the half with an 8-2 spurt thanks to seven points from March to stretch their lead to 44-15 at the break.
The Tigerettes then turned the game into a total rout in the third, as they outscored Ezell-Harding 17-1 in the quarter on the strength of six points from March and five points from Simmons to open up a 61-16 cushion before cruising to the 69-27 win.