The Macon County High student section celebrates following the Tigerettes’ 55-38 victory over Upperman in Monday evening’s District 8-AA Tournament championship game.
(Craig Harris/Macon County Times)
The Macon County High student section celebrates following the Tigerettes’ 55-38 victory over Upperman in Monday evening’s District 8-AA Tournament championship game. (Craig Harris/Macon County Times)

COOKEVILLE -- Macon County High School sophomore guard Abby Shoulders held the basketball near midcourt with 1:40 remaining in Monday evening's District 8-AA Tournament championship game.

She was joined near midcourt by her four teammates seconds later as second-seeded Upperman stood back and let the clock expire, with junior teammate Keeley Carter flinging the basketball skyward in celebration in the final seconds as the top-seeded Tigerettes captured a 55-38 victory over the two-time defending state champions at Tennessee Tech University's Eblen Center.

"It feels great," Macon County sophomore point guard Jalynn Gregory said. "This is real big."

It was the Tigerette program's first district tournament title since 2013, when Macon County went on to finish as the Class AA state runner-up for the second time in three seasons. Current Tigerette assistant coach Kailyn Thompson was a senior on that squad.

Macon County finished as the state runner-up for a third time last March, suffering a two-point loss to Upperman in overtime in the AA state championship game.

The Tigerettes lost to the Lady Bees five times last season, including a 50-43 setback to Upperman in the District 8-AA championship game.

"All the games kind of run together," Gregory said of the eight contests against Upperman over the past two seasons. "The adrenaline is just going. You're all pumped. You play it, but it's like you didn't even play it."

Upperman won its 15th consecutive game over Macon County on Jan. 15, a 37-29 victory over the visiting Tigerettes.

However, Macon County responded with a 48-34 win when the two teams met in Lafayette on Feb. 7.

"We got the monkey off our back," Tigerette head coach Larry White said. "We're a confident basketball team.

"I can't reiterate enough how good practices have been lately. We're just having fun. We had a lot of fun here tonight."

Gregory added, "Once we beat them once, we knew we could beat them again. We just have to come out and play our game."

Second-ranked Macon County (26-5) played its game from the outset, making five 3-pointers in the first quarter to build a 20-10 lead after one period of play. Junior guard Jamie Ashburn and Shoulders each made two 3-pointers in the opening period.

"The shooting beyond the arc was one of the biggest keys of all," White said. "They have the green light. They know that. We don't hold them back."

The quick start was a stark contrast to Friday's semifinal win over fourth-seeded York Institute, in which the Tigerettes led just 6-4 after one period of play and trailed 16-12 at halftime.

"Our problem the past couple of games is that we've been uptight," Gregory said. "We haven't been loose like we have the rest of the games.

"If they doubled (double-teamed), we knew we had to kick (the basketball to the perimeter), and we had to knock down the shots."

Gregory tossed in the team's sixth 3-pointer of the half at the 5:51 mark of the second stanza, and junior teammate Marah King converted on a pair of interior opportunities over the final three minutes of the half, resulting in a 31-16 lead by halftime.

"It's always good to be nervous before a game," Gregory said. "That means you care, but you can't be too nervous. You have to come out and play your game."

King was the beneficiary of passes from Shoulders and Keeley Carter early in the second half that led to baskets, and Gregory made two more 3-pointers over a 50-second span, extending the lead to 21 points (41-20).

"That was really big," White said of the third-quarter surge. "We took excellent shots tonight. We controlled the tempo too. When we wanted it up-tempo, it was. When we wanted to slow it down, we did."

However, third-ranked Upperman (25-5) scored 11 of the final 13 points in the third quarter, with freshman point guard Brooklyn Crouch converting on a layin to cap the surge and pull her squad to within 12 points (43-31).

Carter responded by scoring the first four points of the final period, and the Lady Bees didn't get any closer than 15 points the rest of the way.

Macon County limited the Lady Bees to 34-percent shooting.

Sophomore Reagan Hurst was the only Upperman player to reach double figures, scoring 10 points.

"We were trying to limit Crouch from driving so much and kicking," Gregory said. "We were trying to keep the ball out of Hurst's hands, and Torie Brooks, we weren't going to let her shoot."

The Tigerettes have held the Lady Bees to three of their five lowest offensive outputs this season.

"Our defensive goal was 42 (points)," White said. "We did a real good job."

Macon County shot 44 percent from the field and made 15 of 19 free-throw attempts.

Gregory scored a game-high 20 points, making half of the team's eight 3-pointers.

Carter produced a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 4 assists and 2 steals.

"It's outstanding," White said. "We're peaking at the right time.

"We've put two or three different things in that have made us much better offensively. Getting the play from Marah King, K.K. (McKaylee Mix), Abby and Jamie ... Jalynn and Keeley are our top scorers, but these other people are stepping up. It makes us so much better."

The Tigerettes won their eighth consecutive game. Macon County will host Grundy County, which placed fourth in District 7-AA due to a loss to Sequatchie County in the District 7-AA Tournament consolation game, on Friday evening at 7 in a Region 4-AA Tournament quarterfinal contest.

The winner of Friday's game will face the winner of the Bledsoe County/York Institute quarterfinal in Monday's semifinal round.

The Tigerettes will be on the opposite side of the region bracket than is Upperman and eighth-ranked Cumberland County.

"This game doesn't punch your ticket, but it sure makes the road (better) ... it's like driving on the interstate instead of being out there on rough country roads," White said. "We just have to do our job now."

Macon County girls 55, Upperman 38

UPPERMAN (38) – Reagan Hurst 10, Torie Brooks 8, Brooklyn Crouch 7, Aiyana Levy 6, Ashland McClellan 5, Brooke Shrum 2.

MACON COUNTY (55) – Jalynn Gregory 20, Keeley Carter 12, Marah King 8, Abby Shoulders 7, Jamie Ashburn 6, McKaylee Mix 2.

Half: 31-16, Macon County. Three-point goals: Upperman 3 (Brooks 2, Levy 1), Macon County 8 (Gregory 4, Ashburn 2, Shoulders 2). Records: Upperman 25-5, Macon County 26-5.