By Mark Darnell
The Macon County High School Tigerettes advanced to the TSSAA Class AA State Tournament this past week with some unfinished business.
They were making the ninth appearance, and a fifth consecutive one, without having won a championship. Head Coach Larry White was in his 45th year as a head coach without a title and assistant coaches Kailyn Brooks Thompson and Terra Pryor were on the 2011 and 2013 Macon County teams that won a runner-up silver ball.
Compound that with the fact that last year’s Tigerette team was the odds-on favorite to win it all. They were ranked the #1 team in Class AA girls basketball all year and after winning their first game in the state tournament, the event was abruptly cancelled due to Covid-19. Trust me; it was a hard pill to swallow for Tigerette faithful, much less those girls and their coaches.
Even though they were picked preseason to finish third in their district, that was about to change.
First up in the bracket was the Covington Lady Chargers on March 11th. This team was long and athletic looking, out sizing each Tigerette on the floor. That length really took Macon out of the flow of their offense. Trailing 13-15 after the first period, at the 5:30 mark of the first half Coach White calls a timeout and switches his defense to man-to-man. That was the turning point of the game. Macon fights back to take a lead 22-20 at the break.
Coming out of the locker room it was apparent that Macon had picked up their defensive intensity. That intensity started causing turnovers out of the press which the Tigerettes converted into points. Macon takes a lead 34-25 heading into the final eight minutes. Macon simply out-hustled the Lady Charges and ran them ragged. Final score Macon 49 Covington 34.
Scoring was: Jalynn Gregory 21, Abby Shoulders 6, Taylor Ward 10, and Saranda Woodson 12. Emily Ashburn, Myle Crowder, Kaydence Walrond, Cadence Carter, and Allie Thompson all played but did not score.
Next up in the semifinals were the Lady Cougars from Northview Academy in Sevier County on March 12th. Again the Tigerettes start the game in a smothering man defense and we begin the game on an 8-0 run. After a 12-7 lead at the end of the first, both teams go on runs and go to the half with the Tigerettes opening the margin to 29-17.
Both teams come out of the break forcing the tempo. The Tigerettes go on a long dry scoring spell and Northview cuts the lead to eight. Ward and Ashburn hit buckets at the end of the period to keep the lead at 47-36 for Macon. Still somewhat in a funk offensively, Coach Thompson suggests to Coach White that the Tigerettes go into their 4-to-score spread offense to get better shots. They do, it works, and the lead grows. Gregory fouls out at the 2:30 mark and Carter enters and gets a huge steal defensively that changes momentum. The Tigerettes hit 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to win by a final of 73-59.
Scoring was: Gregory 18, Shoulders 24, Ward 12, Ashburn 6, and Woodson 12 rebounds and 13 points. Carter played but did not score. The Tigerettes hit 31 of 33 free throws in the game.
The championship game was against the Lady Grizzlies of Grainger County. In their previous two games the Lady Grizz had shot 49% and 55% respectively from the field which at this level is very good. However Tigerette fans knew what kind of a blanket that was soon to descend on those young ladies.
Both teams played good sound basketball and sure enough the Lady Grizz were not hitting as they had in their previous two contests. The Tigerettes led 12-9 at the end of the first period. The Tigerettes begin the second with two turnovers and the Lady Grizz goes on a 10-0 run to lead by seven. However the duo of Shoulders and Gregory just kept on plugging and we tied the game 21-21 at the break. Note Gregory and Shoulders were also the only two scorers for Macon.
Early in the third the Tigerettes drop out of the press and the Grainger shooting starts to heat up. Once again Ward makes two three point shots to keep Macon momentum. It was anybodies game to win and the Tigerettes trailed 30-33. Early in the 4th Woodson steps out behind the line and makes a three pointer that sends the fans into bliss and gives the Tigerettes a five point lead. The Tigerettes would go on to hit 13 of 14 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory by a final of 51-40.
I have never seen defense played by five starters for three games in three days. Simply amazing and impressive. Finally, the Tigerettes finished what they started four years ago, a gold ball at MCHS.
Scoring in the final game was: Gregory 23, Shoulders 15, Ward 8, Ashburn 2, and Woodson 3. Shoulders, Ward, and Woodson were named to the All-Tournament Team and Gregory was named Tournament MVP.
At the conclusion of the game the Ms Basketball award was given to Regan Hurst of Upperman. Macon County’s Jalynn Gregory was recognized as a finalist as well.
“We came to this tournament with one goal in mind, and that was to win a gold ball and nothing else was good enough,” Coach Larry White said in the postgame. “I am so proud of my girls, the administration at MCHS, the people at our board of education, but mostly all our fans. We have the best fan base in the state in my opinion.”
So congratulations to these Macon County Tigerettes. Task completed champions at last. All of Macon County is proud of you.
(All photos by Julie Collins)