LOUDON, Tenn. – Making it to the big stage is always quite an accomplishment, but walking the walk beneath the bright lights is what separates the special ones. Unfortunately for both the Red Bank and Signal Mountain girls Monday night, both programs got a big ol’ heaping of special.
There may not be two girls programs in the state any more adept at shining bright beneath the brightest of lights than McMinn Central and Meigs County as most know and the two District 6-AA survivors found out up close in Region 3-AA semifinal bouts with the tradition-rich 5-AA squads.
Meigs County at 29-2 and the state’s top-ranked AA girls’ team, blanketed Red Bank into a flurry of turnovers during a second- and third-quarter blitz to cruise to an 81-54 victory over the Lionettes.
McMinn Central (19-13) followed with a similar pressure cooker against the 6-AA champion Signal Mountain squad and held the Lady Eagles at bay for a 57-41 triumph to send both winners into Wednesday night’s 7 p.m.
region finals here at Loudon High School.
It is the sixth straight year 5-AA has swept into the finals and the second consecutive year these two teams will decide the championship. In fact, the McMinn’s Lady Chargers have now made the region finals in 16 of the last 18 seasons and hoisted the trophy 14 times. The Lady Tigers out of Meigs County, a longtime force in Class A, is shooting for their second straight title since rejoining the AA ranks as they eye an eighth trip to the state tournament.
It will be the third meeting between the teams with Meigs holding a 2-1 advantage, including last week’s district title game. In fact, the last team to beat Meigs County before its current 22-game win streak was the Lady Chargers back in December.
“We pretty much know what they are going to do, and they know what we are going to do, so it will be about who can execute it the best,” said Lady Charger coach Johnny Morgan of the finals clash.
For both Signal Mountain and Red Bank it will be back to the drawing boards with yet another year of experience in the pressure packed atmosphere of a region tourney tucked in their collective belts..
“We didn’t play well tonight. It was a solid year, but you’ve got to learn how to play at this level once you reach this part of the season. I told the girls to soak it in and learn because we plan on being back,” said Signal Mountain coach Kendra Bell.
Red Bank coach Bailey McGinnis echoed a similar sentiment: “We played the No. 1 team in the state in the region semifinals. This is definitely the sort of stage we want to be on and we will come back stronger.”
The boys’ semifinal action will take place here tonight with Sweetwater battling Brainerd in the opening tip at 6 p.m. followed by Howard and Tyner in the nightcap at 7:45 p.m. Just as McMinn Central and Meigs County earned spots in the girls state sectionals with the semifinal wins so also will the winners of the boys’ game tonight, leaving all four just one win away from the state tournament.
Meigs County girls 81, Red Bank 54: The best way to describe what the top-rated Lady Tigers do on a basketball court is to picture in your mind what happens in the process of nuclear fission, especially the part where the atom splits and releases an incredible amount of energy. The difference between them and most of their opponents this year isn’t so much night and day, but rather gasoline and atom bomb.
The explosion can take place at any time, and even if you survive the first blast, and another is usually right around the corner.
Red Bank scrapped and battled, and battled and scrapped to its very best, but like the last 21 foes before them and for the 29th time on the year, it just wasn’t good enough against the gals from Decatur.
“We had a game plan and a good one at that, but then they come out and hit seven 3’s in the first half. They are a great team and that’s why they’re No. 1. They made us play defense for a long time, and we would do a really good job for two or three minutes in a possession and then boom, they’d hit a 3-pointer, and I think it really frustrated the girls,” Red Bank’s McGinnis said.
Meigs County came out red hot, led by sophomore Jaci Powell who had all but two of her 15 points in the first quarter and hit three of the four treys by the Lady Tigers. Despite the blitz, the Lionettes managed to stay within striking distance and were down just 18-12 after the quarter. Red Bank even closed to within 20-17 in the early part of the second period before a 16-4 close before half beget a 17-8 start to the third to put the hay in the barn.
“We got off to a good start and we closed strong, but I didn’t really start feeling good until that third quarter when we stretched it out. Red Bank is just so athletic and we didn’t have an answer for Bailey Lee, but I thought we managed to tire them down some. I guess we kinda’ rely on those big spurts and they have been good to us this year,” said Meigs County coach Jason Powell.
“When you get a turnover with the press and score off of it, then the other team has to turn right back around and face it again. We did that a lot and it got our energy level up, and the girls fed off of that,” Powell added.
Red Bank had eight turnovers in the third period and every one of them led to a Lady Tigers’ basket, and just like that it was a 59-39 advantage heading into the final period.
“That third quarter took a lot of the wind out of our sails. Our goal was to get the ball inside to Bailey, but it was hard to do when we couldn’t get the ball across half court. I’m proud of the girls and we will get back here,” McGinnis added.
Lee was pretty much unstoppable when she got the ball down low, finishing with 25 points on the night, but Meigs County has put together a squad that comes at folks in waves and did so on this night as a trio of Lady Tigers scored double figures. It was a pick your poison kind of proposition.
Powell scored 15 in the first half. Jacelyn Stone, another super sophomore, was the second-half spark plug scoring 18 of her 21 points in the half. And Kassidy Kenny, the lone junior among four other sophomore starters, was just plain steady across the board getting 10 points in the first half and eight more in the second for her 18. Savannah Washington and Arteya Scott each had eight for the Lionettes, which close the season at 20-9.
McMinn Central girls 57, Signal Mountain 41: While the Meigs County lineup is littered with enthusiastic youth, these Lady Chargers have three veteran senior warriors who have shown they simply do not want to lose.
“This will be the third year they’ve made to a sub state game and they have all hit big shots in big games in a state tournament. They just collected their 100thwin as a class the other night and they’ve taken it upon themselves to carry on the tradition,” said Morgan, who is in his 40th year at Lady Charger helm.
The biggest baddest senior was Melia Baker who scored eight points down the fourth quarter stretch, and it was her 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer that pushed the lead to 30-20 to put the Lady Eagles in a hole they just couldn’t dig out of. Baker wound up with 25 on the night. Fellow senior Carlie Runyan ran the show from the point position and was a key factor in forcing 18 Signal Mountain turnovers. She also finished with 15 on the night.
Sophomore Caris Beaty hauled in 10 rebounds to go along with six points, but she came up big on several fronts, including tackling the Lady Eagles talented post player Olivia Koontz. Signal Mountain held a 15-10 edge on the boards at the half, but Koontz picked up a pair of early fouls and wound up fouling out in the final 3:38 of the game as Signal Mountain was desperately clinging within seven points at 47-40.
Koontz finished with nine points, including seven early in the game, but after the second foul managed just one field goal to go with two rebounds the rest of the way.
“It’s the same old story for us. The defensive pressure and their speed really bothered us, and I thought we missed some easy shots. The first half foul problems hurt us too, but in the end we just didn’t shoot the ball very well,” said Bell. “We had some good shots, but the ball just didn’t seem to want to go down for us.’
Morgan likewise wasn’t pleased with the execution of his game plan, but he did give the girls credit for their heart.
“Honestly, they just didn’t want to go home and they kept battling. Its fun when we execute, but we have spurts where we don’t do it very well. We have some girls who know what it takes and they get it done. In the end, we just preach to them the same thing we have for the last 40 years here: get the ball and score with it,” Morgan said.
Lamiah Walker finished up a strong sophomore season with 11 points and should team with Koontz to provide a solid foundation for the next trip back to the big stage. Signal Mountain closes the year at 22-11.
Red Bank 12 9 18 15 – 54
Meigs County 18 18 23 22 – 81
RED BANK (54) – Washington 8, Pratt 5, Romans 6, Ware 2, Scott 8, Bowens, Bailey Lee 25.
MEIGS COUNTY (81) – Jaci Powell 15, A. Crowder 4, E. Crowder 8, Jacelyn Stone 21, Kassidy Kenny 18, Wade 8, Bales 3, Swafford 2, Crager 2.
3-point goals: Red Bank 0; Meigs County 9 (Powell 3, Wade 2, E.Crowder, Stone, Kenny, Bales).
McMinn Central 14 16 13 14 – 57
Signal Mountain 12 8 16 5 – 41
McMINN CENTRAL (57) – Carlie Runyan 15, Baker, Rule, Melia Baker 25, Buckner 6, Smith 5, Beaty 6.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN (41) – Hanson, Kennedy, Hardy 9, Riese 1, Sitton 2, McGann 2, Lamiah Walker 11, McCarter 7, Koontz 9.
3-point goals: McMinn Central 2 (Baker, Smith); Signal Mountain 1 (McCarter).
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)