HANCEVILLE -- Lauderdale County's girls are going back to Birmingham.
The Tigers (28-5) punched their ticket to the AHSAA Final 48 state championships with a 54-45 win against Madison Academy (20-13) this afternoon at the Northwest Regional tournament at Wallace State-Hanceville.
Lauderdale County will play Midfield in the state semifinals Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex arena. The winner will advance to the state championship game to face the Straughn-Holly Pond winner Saturday at 9 a.m.
The defending state champion Tigers suffered a 6-minute drought of going scoreless from the field during the second half until Ivy Wallen's jumper in the lane gave LCHS a 37-31 lead with 7:29 to play.
LCHS stretched the lead to as many as eight in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs came back to pull within 41-39 on Imani Kyser's basket at the 4:43 mark and made it a 1-point game on Lauren Hargett's 3-pointer with 2 minutes left.
But the Tigers, relying on speedy guards Ivy and Emma Wallen, pulled the ball out during the final 2 1/2 minutes, forcing Madison Academy to foul.
LCHS made 11 of its final 12 free throws to pull away after missing seven of its first 12.
Tournament MVP Ivy Wallen scored a game-high 17 points, while Chatara Cox added 13 and seven rebounds.
Emma Wallen and Karlee Brown joined Cox on the all-tournament team.
Sierra Jones overcame early foul trouble to finish with a team-high 14 points for Madison Academy.
The Tigers had 12 turnovers to the Mustangs 15, but made the most of their opportunities, outscoring Madison Academy 15-5 in points off of them.
LCHS sank four of its first seven 3-point shots and led by as many as eight in the second quarter before taking a 26-20 advantage into halftime.
But Lauderdale County missed an opportunity to expand the lead despite Jones, the catalyst of the Mustangs' offense sitting out the final 3 1/2 minutes of the half with three fouls.
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.