ATHENS, Tenn. – With their first-ever region championship only a win away, the East Hamilton Lady Hurricanes found the spotlight a little too dazzling Wednesday night at McMinn County High School.
The McMinn Central Chargettes, winners of the last two Region 3-AA showdowns with East Hamilton, blitzed the less-experienced team right out of the game and made sure the Lady 'Canes could never recover in a 68-46 title clincher.
That means that East Hamilton has to hit the road for Livingtston Academy Saturday night for their third straight road sub-state game. But it was by the narrowest of margins, as Livingston defeated Cannon County 32-31 in the Region 4-AA title game Wednesday night.
Howard and the McMinn Central boys meet Thursday night for the Region 3-AA title, also at McMinn County High School. Game time is 6:30.
Wedneday night, the battle was never truly joined once Central jumped off to an 8-0 lead thanks to a frenzied few opening minutes. Kelsie Young, who had foul trouble later on, and reigning AA Miss Basketball Elizabeth Masengil scored four apiece and, more importantly, set a tempo that proved daunting to East Hamilton.
“We've not seen a really good pressing team in a long time,” said East Hamilton coach Derek Morris. “They sped us up, and we couldn't catch up to it, until it was too late."
“The moment was too big, too bright for our less experienced playerrs, as least through the first five minutes,” he added. "We didn't feel any pressure in the district because we knew those teams."
Central coaching legend Johnny Morgan said their teams' meeting before the holidays had little to do with his team's preparation and game plan. But knowing the Lady Hurricanes' pressing style was a big part of the plan.
“I learned a long time ago that teams that press don't like to be pressed,” Morgan said. “We practice against our man press every day, so I'm always surprised when teams come out trying to press us. We make sure that we can handle it.”
The Chargerettes generally go nine deep into the roster, but Morgan has made sure that all nine have started this season. So it proved to be prudent planning when several of his players found themselves in foul trouble Wednesday. Eleven girls played for the Chargerettes, and eight of them scored.
Masengil led the way, as is her custom, with 25 points that included 7 of 8 foul shots. Much of the night, she helped Elizabeth Trentham and a 1-2 punch in the low post. Trentham finished the night with 14 points.
“We'll take the 3-point shot when it's availble to us,” Morgan said, “but I'd rather see us just stick it in there. We knew they had one big girl (6-3 Juliette Harp), and we tried to make her cover two of us.”
Senior Jessica Caudle, the lone holdover from last year's region runner up, led East Hamilton with 22 points, while Harp and Lexi Zackery finished with 9. The Lady Hurricans failed to take full advantage of the Central trend towards fouling as they made 16 of 29 foul shots.
Region 3-AA Championship at McMinn County
East Hamilton 13 8 17 8 – 46
McMinn Central 24 15 19 10 – 68
EAST HAMILTON (46) – Jessica Caudle 22, Petitt, Harp 9, Stovall, Woods, K. Caudle 2, McCullum, Zackery 9, Moon 4, Wood.
McMINN CENTRAL (68) – Tillman 2, Morrow 4, S. Williams 8, Trulove, P. Williams 4, Young 9, Coleman, Elizabeth Masengil 25, Elizabeth Trentham 14, Casteel, Gray 2.
3-point goals: EH none; MC 2 (Morrow, S. Williams). Records: East Hamilton 24-10; McMinn Central 28-3.