By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Munford Lady Cougars entered the 2018 TSSAA Girls Sectionals looking for redemption after losing the previous year to the Memphis Central Lady Warriors. Meanwhile the Region 8-3A champions Houston Lady Mustangs were 32 minutes from another return trip to Murfreesboro for the Class 3A Girls State Tournament.
The first quarter was tight with Houston ahead 11-8 late in the period. Then the Lady Mustangs outscored Munford 20-2 the rest of the first half to eventually prevail 59-38 to advance.
“It’s what we set out to do,” Houston Head Coach Ben Moore said. “It’s kind of what our standard is and it feels good to accomplish that goal. We’ve got more goals to go after now.
“I thought we could be pretty good,” he added. “We made a run last year when we got down there. We lost three seniors. So leadership was one of those things we had to develop. We knew we had good players and they started to buy in at the right time. I thought if we did that we would have a chance.”
Houston’s chance of returning to State started off shaky when the Lady Cougars got baskets from Aliyah Lee and Gabby Crawford to jump out 4-0.
The Lady Mustangs finally got on the board when Madison Griggs made a layup. Moments later Griggs drilled a three-pointer to give Houston the lead for good.
Next up for the Lady Mustangs in the scoring column was Destinee Wells hitting a jumper and making a foul shot. Houston was ahead 8-4.
The Lady Mustangs were ahead 11-4 courtesy of a Jayla Hemingway triple. Munford rallied back with a pair of buckets from Lee in the paint to make the tally 11-8.
The first quarter ended with Houston up 13-8 when Hemingway closed out the period with a basket.
In the second quarter the Lady Cougars weren’t at full strength when Crawford was sidelined with an ankle injury. Crawford hurt her left ankle during Wednesday night’s Region 7-3A championship game against Arlington.
Houston was hitting full cylinders in the second period outscoring the Lady Cougars 18-2. Munford only got a bucket from freshman guard Maiya Reed that made the score 29-10.
During the Lady Mustangs’ 16-0 run players like Hemingway, Griggs, Wells and Zip Davis made baskets. Houston was ahead 31-10 at the break.
“Tonight didn’t go our way,” Munford Head Coach Steve Poindexter said. “Of course from my experience with this game, the referees let it get the most physical of any. I was a little disappointed because I felt like we were getting a ton of shots in the first quarter and even halfway through the second quarter.
“We weren’t getting any calls,” he added. “They were getting the call we weren’t. And we were the ones being more aggressive at attacking the rim. I felt like there was a lot of contact.”
The tempo was still in favor of Houston in the third quarter with the Lady Mustangs outscoring Munford 18-10. The Lady Cougars started to get production from Lee and Deja Potter in the post receiving passes from guards like Camryn Bruce, Mary Richardson and Reed.
“Our young guards grew up a lot and improved quite a bit,” Poindexter said. “I would say at the beginning of the season, and we had these talks, ‘We have to get a whole lot better.’ I think we accomplished that.
“This was a learning experience because they have really good guards,” he added. “I told our young guards they just didn’t get that way. They worked their tails off.”
Houston entered the fourth quarter holding a 49-20 lead behind contributions from Melisa Carter scoring in the paint.
Munford outscored Houston 18-10 in the fourth quarter behind 8 points from Lee and Potter pouring in 6 points in her final quarter as a Lady Cougar.
Potter, Crawford and Kennisha Mason wrapped up their Lady Cougar careers as the most decorated group in school history with a Region title, multiple District 13-3A championships, MVP awards and two Sub-State appearances.
“You would have to go check the record book, but that senior class won 87 games in four years,” Poindexter said. “That’s almost 22 wins a season. It will be hard to find another group who tallied that many wins in four years.”
Meanwhile for Houston the season will continue in Murfreesboro.
“We have to look in on some little details and refocus,” Moore concluded. “I think we have an advantage that we’ve been there before. Last year we played two games, so now it’s about enjoying the opportunity and doing all the little things that we’ve been preparing for all year.”