FLORENCE — Defense always has been the calling card for the Lauderdale County girls, and it was that pressure defense that propelled the Tigers in Tuesday’s championship game of the TimesDaily Classic.
The Tigers took control by holding Mars Hill to five points in the second period en route to a 48-35 victory. It was the first TimesDaily title for Lauderdale County (6-1), which finished as the runner-up in 2011.
“We take a lot of pride on the defensive end and that was an outstanding defensive effort,” LCHS coach Brant Llewellyn said. “Mars Hill is a very good team and very well-coached. When you hold a team like that to 35 points you’ve done something.”
Chatara Cox led the Tigers offensively, finishing with 16 points in earning tournament MVP honors.
It was the first loss for Mars Hill (7-1), which defeated LCHS last week ago in an area game.
“It’s tough when you catch a great team on the fourth night of the tournament,” Mars Hill coach Ashley Rutledge said. “The first time we played them we didn’t have a lot of trouble with their press, but they executed it really well tonight.
“You know they are going to get some steals and you can’t let it get you down; we made some bad decisions tonight and lost our composure at times.”
Mars Hill scored the final eight points of the opening period and led 12-7 after a buzzer-beater by Ann Marie Mitchell.
The Panthers led 13-7 early in the second when LCHS went to work. The Tigers scored seven straight points to take a 14-13 lead on a basket by Ivy Wallen. Mars Hill regained the lead at 17-16 on a basket by Carly Harrison, but LCHS took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Emma Wallen.
LCHS closed the half on a 9-0 run and led 25-17 at halftime after two free throws by Cox.
“The second quarter was huge,” Llewellyn said. “Our press seemed to wear them down a little and we were able to get some steals.”
Mars Hill cut the margin to 26-20
early in the third period after a basket by Mitchell. LCHS quickly answered when Cox converted a three-point play and Emma Wallen scored on a drive. The Tigers led by as many as 15 before settling for a 37-24 advantage at the end of the third period.
Trailing by 14 early in the fourth period, Mars Hill got a spark from Mary Brooke Willis, who scored eight straight points to cut it to 41-34 with 5:27 remaining.
But the Tigers picked it up defensively once again, holding the Panthers without a basket the rest of the way. LCHS hit 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to ice it.
“We struggled with our shooting, especially in the second and third periods,” Rutledge said. “This is not the outcome we wanted, but finishing second in the TimesDaily Classic is something to be proud of.”
Makayla Liles added nine points for LCHS. Willis paced Mars Hill with 14 points.
“It feels great to win it after finishing second last year,” Llewellyn said. “It’s special for me to win it here because I was a graduate assistant at UNA, so it feels like home.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.