MURFREESBORO – While it has become routine for the Macon County High School girls basketball program to reach the state tournament, that hasn't helped to calm the players' nerves.

“I still have the same nervous feeling and the same excitement when I step on this floor,” Tigerette junior guard Abby Shoulders said.

Those nerves didn't prove to be much of a hindrance in the opening game of the program's fourth consecutive appearance in the Class AA State Tournament as top-ranked Macon County built an early lead and was never threatened after that in a 71-50 victory over Maplewood last Thursday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center.

“We're pretty confident here … that helps a lot,” Shoulders said. “We're pretty used to this gym.”

The Lady Panthers were in the state tournament for the first time since 1980.

It was the third consecutive season that the Tigerettes have won their state opener.

“We've had one goal all year,” Macon County head coach Larry White said. “We'e done the best job of any team I've ever had … we play one game at a time.”

The Tigerettes shot 77 percent in the first quarter, building a 23-13 lead by the end of the period.

Maplewood's defensive pressure on the perimeter resulted in overplays and thus created first-half driving lanes for Tigerette senior guard Keeley Carter and Macon County junior point guard Jalynn Gregory. That duo combined for 28 points in the first half.

“Watching film, we knew they'd be all up in us,” Gregory said. “We just had to handle it and get by them. If we got by them, we had to look for the posts (coming over to help defensively).”

The contest was tied at 4 three minutes in, but Carter's three-point play sparked an 11-0 run, which included back-to-back layins by senior center Marah King and consecutive baskets in the lane from Shoulders.

Both Gregory and Carter made 3-pointers late in the period.

Then, Gregory scored eight points in the second stanza, and senior teammate Jamie Ashburn knocked down two 3-pointers in the period.

The Tigerettes made 5 of 10 3-pointers in the first half and shot 67 percent from the field before halftime.

“It's really big, not just for the cushion (extending the lead), but their defense came out more and we were able to drive more,” Carter said.

Ashburn's first 3-pointer gave her squad its biggest lead of the half, 38-22.

Lady Panther sophomore point guard Renata Watson scored five consecutive points late in the half to trim the deficit to 11 points, but that's as close as Maplewood was able to get.

Gregory tossed in two free throws to give her squad a 14-point lead (45-31) at halftime.

Gregory converted on a four-point play – making a 3-pointer as she was fouled – with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter to give her squad a 58-40 advantage.

The two teams combined for just 16 points in the final period as Macon County worked time off of the clock.

“This never gets old,” Gregory said. “Every time we win, we're always happy.”

Carter finished with team-highs of 22 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. The Class AA Miss Basketball award winner made 9 of 14 field-goal attempts.

Gregory provided 19 points, and both King and Shoulders scored 10 points.

The Tigerettes shot 53 percent, made 7 of 15 3-pointers and connected on 10 of 13 free-throw attempts.

Maplewood (31-6) committed 16 turnovers and shot 44 percent.

Lady Panther junior Larose Morrow scored a team-high 16 points, on 7 of 13 shooting, while Watson and junior forward Zariah Cameron provided 12 and 10 points, respectively. Cameron was one rebound shy of a double-double, grabbing nine boards.

Maplewood's 17-game winning streak was snapped.

Due to the recent happenings involving COVID-19 (the Coronavirus), the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) announced during the game on Thursday that the remainder of the tournament will be limited to the team party (a 23-person maximum that includes players, coaches and support personnel), their immediate families and school administrators. Immediate family includes step-parents, guardians, siblings, other members living in the ahlete's household and grandparents.

“We have more people than anybody here,” White said. “I understand how serious what we are dealing with is. We're going to do our best to not allow it to be a distraction.

“I just hate it for our fans. Our bunch, we get treated like a bunch of rock stars. They're behind us.”

Macon County plays eighth-ranked Nolensville on Friday afternoon at 2:45 in one of the two Class AA semifinal contests. Nolensville (28-4) rolled to a 59-44 victory over Melrose (30-6) on Thursday morning.

Upperman (29-6) faces Westview (31-3) in the other semifinal at 1:15 on Friday afternoon.

The championship game is slated to be played at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon.