McMinn Central came into Wednesday’s Region 3-AA girls’ high school basketball championship game having won a state title a year ago and seeking a sixth region title in the last seven years. Coach Johnny Morgan had guided teams to 767 victories previously.
After the Chargerettes beat East Hamilton 67-58 at East Ridge, the first thing the veteran coach said of winning was: “It never gets old. I don’t care if we’ve won 50 in a row.”
Conversely, East Hamilton (23-9) is an upstart program, three years in existence. The Lady Hurricanes will be playing in a state sectional Saturday for the second consecutive year and seeking their first trip to the state tournament when they travel to Livingston Academy.
McMinn Central (24-7), seeking a fifth consecutive state berth, will host Grundy County. Games are at 7 p.m. local time of the host school.
East Hamilton led more minutes in the first half than the Chargerettes did and the 27-27 halftime score was the game’s fifth tie.
“They rarely go in scoring slumps,” East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. “Not only do they play good defense, in order to stand much of a chance you’ve got to score with them.
“We had some mini runs here and there. I guess in the end they had more gas in the tank than we did.”
It was a mini run by McMinn Central coming out of the locker room that proved to be the beginning of the end for the Lady Hurricanes. Morgan said a point of emphasis during the halftime talk was this was not an elimination game like those from Saturday on will be.
“I think that relaxed us a little bit,” said Morgan, whose team team scored the first seven points in the third quarter in a little more than a minute and a half. “We came out and played good position defense, even on our press, and we took better shots. We were a little bit more patient.”
Three points was as close as the Lady Hurricanes got shortly afterward. The lead grew as high as 14 in the fourth quarter.
“You don’t want to get too high or too low, but keep an even keel, and keep doing what we do best,” Morgan said. “If that’s not good enough, then congratulate them on winning the region championship.”
Elizabeth Masengil led McMinn Central with 29 points.
Morris is fully aware that Masengil, a Miss Basketball finalist, has the potential for big point production, but he chose to play mostly man-to-man defense with less double-teaming than she’s used to seeing.
“We were going to let Masengil get hers and try to stop everybody else,” Morris said. “They hit some big 3s in the second half.”
McMinn Central’s Caitlyn Casteel had two key 3-pointers in the third quarter, and Elizabeth Trentham scored nine of her 12 points in the last 3:11.
Tiffany Lewis led the Lady Hurricanes with 20 of her 25 points coming in the second half. Jessica Caudle added 15 points, and Brynn Moon chipped in with 12.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.