Tigerettes rout East Nashville for state tournament berth
The Marshall County Tigerettes are making the trip back to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s BlueCross Basketball Championships after an 11-year absence and it was easier than expected as they routed East Nashville 49-35 in a Class 2A sectional game Saturday night at the Dottie Kelso Memorial Gymnasium in Lewisburg.
“It’s unbelievable, I dreamed of it since the day I said I would do it again and we are going to make the walk up the ramp I told you about the other day,” MCHS coach David Steely said. “I’m just glad for these girls, these seniors have gone from a one-win season to the state tournament in their career.”
The four-time TSSAA state champion Tigerettes (26-7) take on DeKalb County (23-11) in the first round at the Murphy Center on the campus of MTSU in Murfreesboro on Wednesday at 1:15 p.m.
The other Class 2A matchups are: Macon County (30-5) vs. Covington (28-5), Cheatham County (28-3) vs. Grainger (30-6), and Westview (29-5) vs. South Greene (28-4).
“When I said I wanted to come back I wanted to go to Murfreesboro again,” Steely said. “We are there, so let’s go win some there.”
The Tigerettes came out red-hot in front of a packed house versus the Lady Eagles Saturday night, draining three consecutive 3-pointers by Karlye Wiser, Sydney Tidwell, and Dionna Crutcher and they never looked back in a coast-to-coast win.
“The shots were going in, but we moved the ball real good and we got good, open 3’s swinging it against their pressure zone and we knocked them down,” Steely said.
MCHS junior Kelsey Keiler celebrated her 17th birthday in style, leading the Tigerettes in scoring with 15 points, including one 3-pointer and a 2-for-3 effort from the free throw line.
“This really boosted our confidence because we haven’t done this in such a long time and it took us awhile to get this in our head that we could come this far,” Keiler said. “That fast start really took me by surprise, it helped us see that we can compete with anybody else and it showed that we have come a long way from the beginning of the season.”
“I’m happy for him (Coach Steely) because this is what they are all about, the Steely’s, the tradition, so now we get to go back and try to win another one.”
Crutcher was also in double figures with 10 points, Karlye Wiser added eight, Demariae Ingram had seven, Hannah Davis six, and Tidwell finished with three points.
London Fairs led the Lady Eagles with 10 points, Tameia Shaw added nine, A'Niya Young had six, Zayla Jones netted five, Kristianna Smikes scored three, and Laila Bond rounded out the scoring for East Nashville with a deuce.
Marshall County played lockdown defense the entire game, holding East Nashville to just six two-point field goals in the contest and three second half 3-pointers.
The ball hawking Tigerettes scored five times after swiping the rock from the Lady Eagles, including the defensive play of the game when Crutcher stole the ball and made a backwards circus pass to Wiser, who raced in for a layup to put the exclamation point on the win with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
East Nashville made a couple of runs with the first coming in the first period when they cut the MCHS lead to 13-6 before Crutcher burst their bubble on a long 3-pointer, followed by a tremendous hustle play when she picked up a loose ball on a scramble and took it strong to the hoop to give the Tigerettes an 18-6 edge after the first period.
Marshall County was relentless as they put together an 8-2 run to begin the second quarter, capped off by another steal and score by Crutcher to make it an 18-point lead.
The Lady Eagles tried in vain to stay with Marshall County, but the Tigerettes would not let the Nashville Magnet schoolgirls have any breathing room and held them to just two field goals in the period and had a surprisingly comfortable 31-14 lead at halftime.
East Nashville was 117-21 over the last four seasons with three-consecutive state tournament appearances and a Class 2A title in 2016 and had four losses coming into the contest Saturday night, including a 61-48 setback at Cheatham County in the Region 5-AA Tournament title game, two losses to Maplewood, and one loss to Nolensville.
After two made free throws by Shaw to begin the second half, the birthday girl took over as Keiler scored on a drive to the dish and after an East Nashville brick, Keiler went downtown to make it a 20-point game.
The Tigerettes stayed on the gas with the only saving grace for the Lady Eagles coming on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Shaw to end the third period.
East Nashville made its final push of the game in the fourth quarter, going on an 8-0 run to start the stanza on back-to-back 3-pointers by Smikes and Shaw, plus a Shaw rebound and put-back.
With things getting a little tense, Wiser loosened it up for good when she buried a long bomb in front of the Marshall County home side crowd with five and half minutes remaining in the game.
“In the past couple of games I just haven’t been making any at all, it’s been my arch and I was rushing my shots,” Wiser said. “We wanted to come out and handle the pressure and don’t let it get to us because we knew we could beat anybody we wanted to beat if we just play together as a team.”
At the 5:17 mark of the period, the senior point guard Ingram fouled out after turning in an outstanding defensive effort and a poised performance handling the ball under pressure.
“We played our last five minutes without my senior point guard and I was nervous,” Steely said. “Instead of panicking Kelsey went and got the ball and extended the lead, the whole team did and we held it out there like we knew what we doing and I guess we did.”
The Lady Eagles got to within 10 points, but Keiler scored four in a row to make it a 37-33 game when Crutcher came up with a loose ball near the East Nashville foul line and as she fell backwards, Crutcher flipped the ball to Wiser, who electrified the crowd with an easy lay-in.
After that play, reality set in that the Tigerettes would be making the walk down the ramp on to the Murphy Center floor on Wednesday for the first time since they won the state championship in 2008.
“We played the best we played all year tonight, we looked good out there,” Steely said. “We played like a team, shot the ball good, and we played outstanding defensively against a really good team, they were the favorite.”
This will mark the 22nd state tournament appearance for the Tigerettes, who finished runner-up in 2007 and won the Class AA state title in the leap years of 1972, 76, 1980, and 2008.
Marshall County’s first state tournament appearance was in 1925 at the Tennessean-Peabody State Girls Basketball Tournament at Peabody Gymnasium in Nashville.
“I love it, it’s a fruition of all the work we do, all the coaches, all the players, it’s year-round,” Steely said. “So we are going to go to Murfreesboro and enjoy every second of it.”
East Nashville 6 8 10 11-35
Marshall County 18 13 9 9-49
East Nashville (35): London Fairs 10, Tameia Shaw 9, A'Niya Young 6, Zayla Jones 5, Kristianna Smikes 3, Laila Bond 2.
3-Point Goals (3): Smikes, Shaw, Fairs.
Free Throws (14-for-20): Fairs 5-for-8, Young 4-for-6, Shaw 4-for-4, Jones 1-for-2.
Marshall County (49): Kelsey Keiler 15, Dionna Crutcher 10, Karlye Wiser 8, Demariae Ingram 7, Hannah Davis 6, Sydney Tidwell 3.
3-Point Goals (6): Wiser 2, Crutcher 2, Tidwell, Keiler.
Free Throws (7-for-9): Ingram 5-for-6, Keiler 2-for-3.
Halftime Score: Marshall County 31, East Nashville 14.