By Mark Darnell
The Macon County Tigerettes rocked the girls basketball world this past weekend when they travelled to play in the sub-state. McMinn Central was the Region 3AA champion and ranked in the top 3 in the state in their classification all season.
Following the three hour drive, the Tigerettes had nothing to lose. Trailing after the first basket of the game, the Tigerettes went on a slow run and built up a nine point lead, 21-12, after the first quarter. Our guards were doing a great job with dribble-drive penetration against the athletic McMinn defense. The Chargerettes focused on high-tempo, full court pressure in the 2nd quarter, and it almost got to the Tigerettes.
Macon committed 10 turnovers in the 2nd period alone and McMinn went on a run of their own. Keeley Carter picked up her 3rd foul with 3:10 left in the half and McMinn went on to score five straight points off of three Tigerettes successive turnovers. Both teams seemed to have taken the other’s best punch and at the half McMinn led 35-32 over Macon.
The Tigerettes surged early in the 3rd and led by two when Carter picked up her 4th foul and was forced to sit. Jenna Russell kept the ship sailing until she picked up her 4th foul at the 4:22 mark of the 3rd period and Macon leading 43-38. McMinn made a special effort at this point to get their athletic perimeter players to the foul line with dribble-drive penetration on offense. At the end of the 3rd quarter they had done just that as the foul tally was Macon 19 McMinn 9 total for the game. More turnovers mounted and McMinn surged back to the lead.
Then Coach Larry White rolled the dice.
At the 1:54 mark of the 3rd quarter he had seen enough and sent Carter and Russell both back in with four fouls each and decided to let the chips fall where they may. McMinn led 51-48 and appeared headed back to the state tournament.
Of course McMinn went into the double bonus early in the final period. With the McMinn lead pushed back to 6, at 4:22 freshman Jamie Ashburn hit a three pointer just this side of Knoxville to make it 57-60. Then with 3:57 left in the game and McMinn leading 65-61 two things happened in quick succession: McMinn went cold or they tightened up or the pressure got to them or something and MCHS freshman Keeley Carter decided to introduce herself to the rest of the state.
Carter proceeded to score the next consecutive 11 points, on an old fashioned three pointer, a runner down the lane, and she iced six consecutive free throws to push the Macon lead to 72-66. McMinn continued to come down the floor and miss shots that Macon would rebound. Jamie Ashburn and Russell would also hit 3 of 4 free throws to push the lead to 75-66 with 9 seconds left. McMinn hit their only basket in the last 4 minutes of the game at the buzzer and the Tigerettes stun the McMinn Central crowd and win by a final score of 75-69.
Scoring was: Keeley Carter 29 points and 13 rebounds, Kyndal Bullington 20, Jamie Ashburn 11, Mattie Goolsby 8, Jenna Russell 5, and Luci Allen 2. Morgan Carter played but did not score. Macon shot 29 of 46 (65%) from the field and made 3 of 6 three pointers. They committed 23 turnovers but managed to overcome by doing an exceptional job of putting the ball in the basket once they did break the press. This win is perhaps the biggest upset win in the Tigerette basketball program.
Coach Larry White commented in his post-game interview with Tim Case of WLCT 102.1 that “there were probably only 17 people in this gym who thought we could win tonight and they were on that bench, but I’m so proud of my girls.” “It was such a team effort… what about Ashburn …and Bullington …and Goolsby … and Jenna Russell playing with four fouls… our team grew up a bit tonight.”
The Tigerettes will now advance to the TSSAA Girls AA State Tournament. They drew lucky number 3 in the seeding draw and will face Pearl Cohn in the opening round game on Thursday Mar 9th at 10 am in Murphy Center at MTSU in Murfreesboro. It is the third time this decade that the Tigerettes will make an appearance at state. In both 2011 and 2013 the Tigerettes finished as runner-ups winning the silver ball.