By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Maybe it walking into the William Osteen Gymnasium or the athletic frames of players like Jherika Brown, Glenda Garner, Marquisha Sanders and Tamia Aldridge.
Whether it was the pressure of playing their cross-town rivals, the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels started flat Dec. 14 against the Millington Lady Trojans falling behind 12-4 after one quarter.
But TRA regrouped and rallied to make the score 29-27 late in the third quarter in favor of the Lady Trojans. The comeback of the Lady Rebels ended up short with Millington prevailing 45-39.
“Early on we came out flat,” TRA Head Coach Keith Cox said. “I don’t know if we’ve played here in a long time. And we shot terribly. I don’t think we made shot outside the paint the whole entire game. We missed a ton of layups. We spotted them too much too early.”
Keyona Johnson was a big reason the Lady Trojans took an early 12-4 lead. The senior guard drained a pair of three pointers including the shot to make the score 12-4.
“There were times tonight I though our focus was really good,” Millington Head Coach Bruce Marshall said. “But then we’d get back up 10 or 12 points. We went on a pretty good run in the third quarter.”
Before their third quarter run, the Lady Trojans used buckets by Aldridge and Tracie Clark to build a 20-9 lead in the first half. Garner located Aldridge near the rim for a layup to create the 11-point advantage.
The halftime score was 20-13. The Lady Trojans were ahead 26-14 early in the third quarter when TRA responded with a 13-3.
After a pair of Kallie Alexander free throws brought the Lady Rebels within 9 points, TRA senior guard Taylor Beasley hit a shot to make the score 26-19.
Later in the period TRA cut the deficit to 29-25 with a couple of Ally Naifeh foul shots. With about a minute remaining in the third quarter, Lady Rebel eighth-grade guard Megan Sanfratello made a steal leading to a bucket.
The Millington lead was trimmed to 29-27. TRA regained possession with a chance to tied or take the lead. But the Lady Trojans caused a turnover and Johnson hit a basket before the horn to make the score 31-27.
“That gave us a lot of momentum going into the fourth quarter,” Marshall said. “I thought we came out pretty focused in the fourth quarter. Then we got a little sloppy. And then we regained our composure in the last two minutes.”
Abby West made the deficit two points again for TRA hitting a baseline jumper to start the fourth quarter. Then the Lady Trojans proceeded with a 9-0 run.
“Jherika Brown hit a couple of three-pointers,” Marshall noted. “We started to get into a flow and their Coach did a pretty good job of calling timeouts to stop our momentum. That helped them get back into the game.”
Brown’s second triple made the score 40-29. Naifeh ended TRA’s drought with a pair of free throws. Down the stretch the Lady Trojans nursed their lead toward victory.
“We fought and we battled,” Cox said. “We waited until the middle of the third quarter before we started fighting back. We never got over the hump. That last possession of the third quarter, we ended up being down by four instead of tied. And they made that run early in the fourth quarter. We exhausted ourselves trying to get back into it.”
Whether it’s called the Battle of Millington or the Flag City Showdown, Cox said the game against the Lady Trojans benefited his group of Lady Rebels.
“This was definitely good for us,” he concluded. “Millington is a physical team. We loaded our schedule early with physical teams knowing we’re a little bit smaller. We knew that was something we had to get better at. We played another physical team and I thought we had some I was impressed with who stepped up.”