By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MEMPHIS — What do a championship game, going into overtime and the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebel 7th/8th graders have in common? Pressure.
On the night of Feb. 4 in the Grace St. Luke Episcopal School Gymnasium, the Lady Rebels were challenged by the Fayette Academy Lady Vikings for the Shelby-Metro 7th/8th championship. A title game has inherited pressure.
Going into overtime tied at 30-30 added to the magnitude. The Lady Rebels reaching the extra period was an achievement after trailing 15-4 in the second quarter. TRA used pressure defense to claw back into the game and prevail 36-34 in overtime.
“I’m so proud of my girls for hanging in there,” TRA head Coach Wendy Porter said. “We started off slow but we really played smart. We came back by playing smart. We made some key shots when needed to make them.
“We did a great job on defense of pressuring the ball,” she continued. “That’s what we’ve preached all year. We’ve been saying it all year, ‘Pressure the ball. Pressure will win.’ And it worked for us tonight.”
Fayette’s outside shooting was working earlier in the night with the Lady Vikings hitting three three-pointers in the first quarter. Fayette was ahead 13-4 after 6 minutes. The Lady Vikings held TRA to 3 points in the second quarter to lead 16-7 at the break. TRA made adjustment at halftime and came out with buckets from Lexi Williams, Brianna Hall and tournament MVP Eva McIntosh to make the score 16-13.
Later in the period, Hall used her passing skills to locate teammate Mary Leslie Cranford for a layup to tie the game at 16-16.
The Lady Vikings settled down and hit the final two shots of the third quarter to take a 20-16 advantage into the fourth quarter. Once again TRA chipped away at a deficit. The Lady Rebels used foul shooting to make the score 24-23 in favor of the Lady Vikings. Then Hall made a steal and passed the ball to Mary Catherine Turner for a go-ahead bucket. With key ball handlers Megan McClure and Anna Redman fouled out for Fayette, Head Coach Shane Russell had to find offense out of new sources. Lauren Alexander and Autumn Gaither stepped up and hit baskets to make the score 28-25.
The final minute and 19 seconds of regulation, Hall made 3 of 4 free throws to tie the contest at 28-28.
The Lady Vikings went ahead late with a bucket from Lizzie Rhea. Turner had the answer for TRA making a layup with less than 10 seconds on the clock. The game was heading to overtime tied at 30-30.
The Lady Vikings grabbed an early lead in the extra session, TRA rallied one more time with Hall hitting the go-ahead bucket at 35-34. Cranford added a free throw to make the final 36-34.
“We finished in the paint,” Porter said. “I knew that’s where we would need to finish because we’re the strongest there. And they did.
“It helped they lost some key players,” she concluded. “We lost a couple too. But I have a bench. And my bench came out the last couple of games and did a great job. The last couple of games we’ve gotten into foul trouble and my bench has bailed us out each time.”
TRA finished the season 19-4. The 2015-16 Lady Rebels are Emily Crain, Addy Beasley, Meredith Owen, Mary Catherine Turner, Lexi Williams, Sarah Allyn Thornell, Mary Leslie Cranford, Ayden Simpson, Braden Legget, Emma Kate Wilder, Brooklyn Rose, Brianna Hall, Eva McInosh, and Jordan Allen and Head Coach Wendy Porter and Assistant Coach Brandi Thornell.