Tigerettes fall to Pearl Cohn in tough 66-26 loss
The MCHS Tigerettes returned to Dottie Kelso Memorial Gymnasium on Friday night with a game to gauge its overall progress from last season's one-win record versus the Pearl Cohn Firebirds.
Pearl Cohn beat Marshall County handily 66-26 in Nashville last year on the way to a 20-win season and region berth.
The Firebirds (4-1) came into the contest with just one loss, a nine-point set back against Brentwood Academy, who have won the past three D-II state championships, but were challenged from start to finish against the resurgent Tigerettes (3-3) who lost 48-33 in game much closer than the score indicates.
"I think this says we're getting better," Marshall County coach David Steely said. "This says were learning to play with intensity and focus. They beat us pretty bad last year so we definitely wanted to come out and play and not let them intimidate us and try to challenge them back."
"And we're getting better at being able to do that against quality teams," Steely added. "Hopefully this is just getting us ready for district play, but I'm proud of the way we played. I always want to play a little better, never satisfied with losing but real proud of them."
The one-two backcourt punch of Leah Hollingsworth and Zachuriya O'Neal combined for 19 of the teams 33 total points and the freshman duo of Hannah Davis and Kelsey Keiler continued to give the Tigerettes more options as Davis finished with four points and a team high seven rebounds while Keiler added seven points and four rebounds.
Pearl-Cohn star and Troy signee Janiah Sandifer led the Firebirds with 14 points and Yaubryson Chambers added 11 points as the Tigerettes increasingly dominant defense held the usually high-scoring metro Nashville squad to its second lowest scoring output of the season.
"We're getting to where we play hard all the time and that's a really big positive," Steely, who is 3-3 in his coaching return to the Tigerettes, said. "We had a game plan coming in and for the most part they executed what they were asked to do which is a big step forward for us."
The Tigerettes shot a dismal 5-for-15 from the charity stripe, including 0-for-5 in the fourth period in a game that was decided by 15 points while Pearl-Cohn nailed 8-of-11 to seal the game heading down the stretch.
"We haven't been a good free throw shooting team this year," Steely stated. "We're struggling but we're putting a lot of time in there. I'm just trying to be consistent in what we do. We do have freshman and sophomores that haven't been in close games in the fourth quarter."
The Tigerettes matched the Firebirds shot for shot in the opening period with Hollingsworth, Keiler and Demarie Ingram all knocking down 3-pointers to match six Sandifer and four Shawnta Shaw points to trail by just one-point 13-12 heading into the second period.
The Firebirds scored first in the next period for the 15-12 lead, but a Keiler bucket and Davis free throw tied the game at 15-15.
Shaw knocked down a three to push the lead back to three, but O'Neal drove strong to the basket for a tough layup and the lead remained at one for Pearl Cohn.
The Firebirds started to pull away 25-17 after five Chambers points, but Hollingsworth knocked down her second triple of the night and Keiler drove to the hoop and knocked a jumper down in the lane to pull the home team to within three points with just 32 seconds left in the half.
Shanice Shaw knocked down a back-breaking 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to turn a three point lead into six at 28-22 heading into the break.
O'Neal scored five Tigerette points early in the second half to keep the blue and white close, but Chambers scored on an acrobatic reverse layup in traffic with 1:52 in third quarter, giving the Firebirds their biggest lead of the game at 42-27.
"I feel like we just started to get down on ourselves," O'Neal, who transferred in from girl's powerhouse Murfreesboro Oakland for her senior year, said. "As the game progressed throughout the four quarters, I feel like most of the girls started feeling like they can't compete when really it's just a mental thing."
Hollingsworth knocked down her third field goal of the game to cut the lead back to 13 as the Tigerettes headed into the final frame.
Unlike the last season's Tigerettes, the 2016-17 version kept fighting despite the double digit deficit and when Ingram hit Davis for a layup Marshall County was still in the game 44-33 with 3:15 remaining after allowing the Firebirds just two points the first five minutes of the quarter.
Monae Mayes and Chambers hit back-to-back layups to notch the lead back to 15 with 1:24 remaining, but despite the Tigerettes best efforts the score would remain 48-33 until the final buzzer.
"I feel like just having someone to lead (helps the team)," O'Neal who added two assists and two rebounds, said. "Once there is a leader then everybody else will just follow through. The past is the past and a lot of people judge us from last year but that's not really the case."
"Every game we always have a speech and I tell them, no matter who we play, we gotta go out there and play hard because they put their uniforms and shoes on the same way we do so anyone can win the game," O'Neal added.
The Tigerettes embark on a three-game road trip of very winnable games starting Tuesday night at Shelbyville Central (2-2) before the first district game of the season Friday at Giles County (4-3).
Next Tuesday will bring a heated matchup at Columbia Central.
Marshall County 12 10 7 4-33
Pearl Cohn 13 15 14 6-48
Marshall County-Zachuriya O'Neal 11, Leah Hollingsworth 8, Kelsey Keiler 7, Hannah Davis 4, Demarie Ingram 3
Three-point goals-Leah Hollingsworth 2, Demarie Ingram
Pearl Cohn-Janiah Sandifer 14, Yaubyron Chambers 11, Shawnta Shaw 9, Shanice Nelson 8, Monae Mayes 4, Kiah Hayes Woods 2
Three-point goals-Shawnta Shaw 2, Shanice Nelson 2
Halftime score-Pearl Cohn 28, Marshall County 22