COOKEVILLE – The top-ranked Macon County High School girls basketball team limited fifth-ranked Upperman to 17 points over the final 22 minutes of last Thursday evening's Region 4-AA Tournament championship game, helping the Tigerettes capture a 37-28 victory at Tennessee Tech University's Eblen Center.

“It's extremely special,” Macon County junior point guard Jalynn Gregory said. “It means so much to us to come back and play in front of our home crowd.”

Winners of the region championship games earned the right to host sectional contests, while regional runner-up squads were forced to travel for their sectional contests.

It was the fourth consecutive season that the two programs have played in the regional championship, with Upperman winning the first two of those contests.

“That's a great accomplishment,” Tigerette head coach Larry White said. “There's only 16 teams left in the state.”

Gregory talked of the respect that she and her teammates have for a Lady Bee program that won back-to-back state championships in 2017 and 2018, defeating Macon County in overtime to capture that second title.

“Tons … it's a lot (of respect),” Gregory said. “They've beaten us in the past. It's always been a big rival game. We know that every time we play them that we are going to get their best, and they are going to get our best.”

Macon County has now won six consecutive games against Upperman. Four of those have come this season, with the first three by scores of 64-37, 42-35 and 58-44.

“It's a little bit of pressure,” Gregory said. “As a team, we try not to get ahead of ourselves. We try to just win one game at a time. We don't look ahead.”

The Tigerettes produced just two baskets in the first quarter against the Lady Bees' 1-2-2 zone defense.

“We were all a little nervous,” Gregory said. “We knew this one determined if we got another home game or not. There was a little more pressure. We weren't hitting our shots early. We just had to keep going, keep running our offense, look for different shots and stay focused.”

Gregory made three 3-pointers in the first half, the final of which came with 2:48 remaining. That gave Macon County its first lead (14-13), which is how it remained until halftime.

“We haven't been behind all year,” White said. “That bothered us. I think this game is great for us. We had to dig deep.

“In the first half, we turned the ball over. In the second half, it's the worst free-throw performance ever for this group. If we want to go and do what we want to do, we'll have to do a better job at the foul line in that situation.”

Gregory and classmate Abby Shoulders made 3-pointers over the first five minutes of the second half, and both Shoulders and Keeley Carter penetrated into the middle of the zone for baskets.

“We really just settled down,” Gregory said. “The five starters got together and were like, 'We're fine. We figured out what we need to do. Let's just come out and do it, and we'll be fine.'”

Jamie Ashburn's steal midway through the quarter led to Shoulders' transition layin, giving the Tigerettes their largest lead to that point (26-18).

“We were really looking at the high post, but that was hard to get to,” Gregory said. “They are real long and lanky. They were crashing to the middle.

“We realized if you pass it to the corner, and if you just keep them going back and forth, they'll evnetually get tired. That will create different shots.”

White added, “At halftime, we made some great adjustments that were the difference in the game. We got Jalynn open. She was phenomenal tonight shooting early.”

Upperman pulled back to within three points when Miss Basketball finalist Reagan Hurst made two free throws with 6:33 remaining.

However, neither team scored again until Macon County's Miss Basketball finalist, Keeley Carter, penetratd into the lane for a runner with 3:57 remaining.

The Lady Bees were limited to just one point over the final six-plus minutes.

“We're relentless defensively,” White said. “Abby took (Upperman point guard Brooklyn) Crouch out of the game. We switched (on screens). (Lady Bee junior guard Torie) Brooks never made a three. Jamie Ashburn is a stopper. If it's someone who is a three-point shooter, she's as good as anybody I've ever coached, and Keeley got some steals for us.”

Upperman was held to a season-low point total.

“We just match up to them well,” Gregory said. “We know which players do what. Torie Brooks, we know she's mainly just a spot-up shooter. We can't help off of her. We know which players can shoot the three but really don't want to. So, we know we can help off them a little bit.”

Gregory finished with a game-high 14 points, converting on 5 of 8 field-goal attempts (including 4 of 7 3-pointers), and Shoulders provided 12 points.

Carter contributed nine points and grabbed 12 of the team's 18 rebounds.

Hurst scored a team-best 12 points, but she was limited to 3 of 9 shooting.

Gregory was selected as the tournament's most valuable player, and she was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Ashburn, Carter, Shoulders and Marah King along with Upperman's Brooks, Crouch ,Hurst and Ashland McClellan.

“I told them, 'It is ugly, but it doesn't matter,'” White said. “Ten years from now, there won't be two people to ask them what the score was. They'll just ask if they won the region championship.”

Macon County girls 37, Upperman 28

MACON COUNTY (37) – Jalynn Gregory 14, Abby Shoulders 12, Keeley Carter 9, Saranda Woodson 2.

UPPERMAN (28) – Reagan Hurst 12, Ashland McClellan 8, Brooklyn Crouch 6, Abigail Johnson 2.

Half: 14-13, Macon County. Three-point goals: Macon County 5 (Gregory 4, Shoulders 1), Upperman 1 (McClellan 1). Records: Macon County 31-1, Upperman 27-6.


Class AA regional championship game results

Region 1: Elizabethton 60, Grainger 50

Region 2: Carter 63, Gatlinburg-Pittman 61

Region 3: Meigs County 55, Red Bank 48

Region 4: Macon County 37, Upperman 28

Region 5: Maplewood 42, Westmoreland 34

Region 6: Nolensville 68, Marshall County 33

Region 7: Westview 52, Crockett County 20

Region 8: Melrose 46, Covington 42