By Thomas Sellers Jr.
CORDOVA — Leading 51-34 late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, things appeared safe for the Millington Lady Trojans in the semifinals of the District 14-3A Girls Basketball Tournament.
With victory in hand, some of the Millington faithful headed for the exits of the Cordova Gymnasium. But the Bolton Lady Wildcats had other ideas. Using a 23-7 run in less than three minutes, the Lady Wildcats only trailed 58-57 with 12.9 second remaining.
“What was going through my mind, ‘Don’t foul,’” Millington guard Erin Clark recalled. “‘Don’t foul. And every position we have, make sure we score that bucket. And don’t foul.’”
It was a pair of Bolton free throws that made it a one-point game. Then it was Clark that found herself with the ball in her hands being fouled. Her thought process quickly transformed into make the free throws. And Clark was able to sink both shots and Millington held on for a 60-57 victory.
The win ensured the Lady Trojans will host the first round of Regionals this Friday at 6 p.m. in the William Osteen Gymnasium. And the victory earned Millington a championship date with the Arlington Lady Tigers this past Tuesday night.
Entering the semifinal contest against Bolton, the Lady Trojans had their district winning streak snapped by the Bartlett Lady Panthers. Bartlett ruined Millington Senior Night with a three-point win.
“I was hoping we would have learned from that Bartlett loss,” Millington Head Coach Bruce Marshall said. “But I’m not sure we did. We were very impatient early on in the ball game. Shooting shots off of one pass, especially on the perimeter. In the second half, I thought we did a better job.
“Seymon (Taylor) was looking to pentrate,” he added. “Erin looked to pentrate. The good thing about that, when we pentrate like that, sometimes our post players have a better chance of getting into rebounding position versus off that long rebound from an outside shot.”
Millington led 24-18 after two quarters against Bolton. Foul trouble sent players like Taylor, Clark and twin towers Treasure Redding and Tiara Caldwell to the bench in the second quarter.
As the starters were getting their rhytm in the third quarter, Millington stayed ahead of the Lady Wildcats 35-29.
In the fourth quarter the Lady Trojans started to get some separation from Bolton using the strategy of Clark and Taylor to the basket. Clark made a layup in the opening moment of the quarter to make the score 37-30.
After a Redding jumper, Clark and Taylor scored Millington’s next 10 points. Clark hit a pair of foul shots and a layup in the lane. Taylor hit four free throws and a baseline jumper that made the score 49-34.
“A lot of teams come out underestimating the guards,” Taylor said. “We both feel like we have to prove that we’re here and we can contribute and dominate as well as our post.”
Then the ball went back into the post when Caldwell capped off the stretch of Millington hot shooting with a layup off the glass that made the score 51-34.
Leading by 17 points late in final quarter, tournament directors were ready to write Millington on the next line of the bracket to face Arlington. But Bolton still had life.
Using missed Millington free throws, full-court pressure defense and hitting shots in the lane, the Lady Wildcats cut the Lady Trojans down to one point with less than 13 seconds remaining.
Clark was fouled and made both of her free throws to make the score 60-57. Bolton raced the ball to halfcour and called a timeout to set up a final play.
The Lady Wildcat three-point attempt was off the rim and Caldwell secured the rebound and the Millington trip to the championship game.
“A lot of sweat,” Marshall said. “ I think we were 2 of 18 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. They survived it and now we have a big challenge with Arlington come Tuesday night for the district championship.
“They added a girl which gives them a lot more size, which is going to be a problem for us,” he added. “We’re going to have to come ready to play. If we don’t we won’t bring that district championship back to Millington. And it’s time to bring it back.”
Win or lose, the Lady Trojans brought Regionals back to Millington.
“It sure beats like last year when we went to Hardin County,” Marshall concluded. “That’s a long way and I’m just thankful to where we hung on and we can play at home. Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd there rooting for us.”