Craig Harris/Macon County Times The Macon County High girls basketball team won the Region 4-AA Tournament championship with last Wednesday evening’s 51-27 victory over DeKalb County. Team members include: (kneeling, from left) Marah King, McKaylee Mix, Jalynn Gregory, Jamie Ashburn, Keeley Carter, Abby Shoulders, manager Allye Morgan, (standing) head coach Larry White, scorekeeper Corey Hammock, Graci Scott, assistant coach Brandon Mahaney, Myle Crowder, Kinsley Arnett, Taylor Ward, Emily Ashburn, Breia Crouch, assistant coach Kailyn Thompson, certified athletic trainer Elizabeth Davis and athletic director Beverly Shoulders.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

The Macon County High girls basketball team won the Region 4-AA Tournament championship with last Wednesday evening’s 51-27 victory over DeKalb County. Team members include: (kneeling, from left) Marah King, McKaylee Mix, Jalynn Gregory, Jamie Ashburn, Keeley Carter, Abby Shoulders, manager Allye Morgan, (standing) head coach Larry White, scorekeeper Corey Hammock, Graci Scott, assistant coach Brandon Mahaney, Myle Crowder, Kinsley Arnett, Taylor Ward, Emily Ashburn, Breia Crouch, assistant coach Kailyn Thompson, certified athletic trainer Elizabeth Davis and athletic director Beverly Shoulders.

CROSSVILLE – After the regional title had been elusive for the Macon County High girls basketball program the previous two years, it came far easier than expected this season.

The second-ranked Tigerettes completed a three-game romp through the Region 4-AA Tournament with last Wednesday evening’s 51-27 victory over DeKalb County in a championship game played at Cumberland County High School.

“The past two years, Baxter (Upperman) has been our problem,” Macon County junior Keeley Carter said. “We’ve gotten to this point but came up short.”

The Tigerettes won their three tournament contests by a combined margin of 88 points.

“I couldn’t be any more pleased, getting to host a substate (sectional game),” Macon County head coach Larry White said. “It took me 42 years (of coaching) to do that. I’ve never won a region title. This will be my eighth substate to go to (five as the Red Boiling Springs head coach and three at Macon County High). We’ve lost two times.”

Regional winners earned the right to host Saturday night’s sectional games. The Tigerettes moved on to face Meigs County, which fell to 29-3 with a 58-56 loss to McMinn Central in Wednesday evening’s Region 3-AA title contest.

The loss forced DeKalb County to travel to McMinn Central for its sectional game.

The Tigerettes had to travel to McMinn Central the last two seasons for sectional contests, after falling to Upperman in the regional championship game in each of those seasons.

“After losing the past two years and having to travel … getting to be at home with our fans and our awesome student section, it’s great,” Carter said.

It was the third meeting this season between Macon County and DeKalb County. The Tigerettes captured a 61-36 win when the two teams played in Lafayette on Jan. 11 and then rolled to a 63-32 victory in the rematch in Smithville on Feb. 5.

The Lady Tigers reached the championship game with one-point wins over eighth-ranked Cumberland County and third-ranked Upperman, the two-time defending state champion.

“We were the favored team coming in here, but we weren’t looking over them,” Carter said. “They’ve been shooting good. They just had two big upsets.

“We had to stay humble and do our job to get through this game.”

Macon County took control from the outset, scoring the first 14 points.

Carter scored the first four points of that run and the last four points.

Sophomore teammate Jalynn Gregory also provided a pair of baskets during the surge.

“The looser this team is in practice … if we’re in practice and they’re all uptight, we’re going to have problems,” White said. “We’ve only done that once all year (prior to a 37-29 loss at Upperman on Jan. 15). We’ve taken to our game plan.”

DeKalb County didn’t score until Mya Ruch sank a baseline jump shot with 1:13 remaining in the first quarter.

Tigerette sophomore guard Abby Shoulders concluded the first-quarter scoring by tossing in a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining, creating a 17-4 margin.

“I can’t really tell until the game actually starts,” Carter said of whether the team will start strong. “If the tempo is up and we’re getting good calls, we’re probably going to hit a couple of shots back to back.”

The Lady Tigers slowed Macon County down in second stanza by employing a 2-3 zone defense. DeKalb County pulled back to within 9 points as Lydia Brown and Joni Robinson made back-to-back 3-pointers.

“It kind of takes the pressure off,” Carter said of the strong start. “Then again, you have to maintain the lead. We didn’t do such a hot job in the second quarter. They made a little run on us, but it’s a little relief that you’re in the lead and not having to fight back.”

The Tigerettes responded by scoring the next 8 points to create a 17-point margin before Emme Colwell’s 3-pointer created a 27-13 margin at halftime.

Then, Macon County separated itself by scoring 12 unanswered points in the third period. Carter provided 9 of those, and Gregory caught a skip pass from junior teammate McKaylee Mix and buried a 23-footer.

That extended the lead to 25 points.

“We just talk about that we have to play better than we did in the first half,” Carter said. “We want to score more than we did in the first half.”

Both teams emptied their benches to start the fourth quarter, with Tigerette sophomore guard Graci Scott making two 3-pointers in the final period.

“We addressed it (attacking the zone) a lot at halftime,” White said. “We did a better job in the second half. Another thing was that we eased up in our defense on the ball in the halfcourt.”

Carter was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring a game-high 23 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 steals. She made 10 of 15 field-goal attempts.

Gregory scored 9 points, and she joined Carter on the all-tournament team along with Shoulders and junior teammate Marah King.

Lydia Brown and Kadee Ferrell scored 5 points each for the Lady Tigers. Those two were also on the all-tournament team, along with Colwell.

DeKalb County shot just 20 percent from the field, while Macon County shot 35 percent.

The Lady Tigers were held to a season-low point total, committed 19 turnovers and were outrebounded by a 46-28 margin. Both Gregory and King grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds.

It was Macon County’s first regional title since 2013.

“We played tremendous tonight,” White said. “We’re just playing off the emotion, the heartbreaker we had at the end of the year last year (an overtime loss to Upperman in the state championship game).

“We try to play one game at a time. We know where we want to get to.”

Macon County girls 51, DeKalb County 27

DEKALB COUNTY (27) – Lydia Brown 5, Kadee Ferrell 5, Megan Cantrell 3, Emme Colwell 3, Joni Robinson 3, Leah Davis 2, Gracie Griffin 2, Mallori Hart 2, Mya Ruch 2.

MACON COUNTY (51) – Keeley Carter 23, Jalynn Gregory 9, Marah King 6, Graci Scott 6, Abby Shoulders 5, Breia Crouch 2.

Half: 27-13, Macon County. Three-point goals: DeKalb County 5 (Brown 1, Cantrell 1, Colwell 1, Ferrell 1, Robinson 1), Macon County 4 (Scott 2, Gregory 1, Shoulders 1). Records: DeKalb County 22-11, Macon County 29-5.