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Back to Birmingham: Lady Tigers earn spot in state's final four

By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
The T.R. Miller Lady Tigers captured the Southwest Regional Class 3A tournament championship yesterday in Mobile to assure them the opportunity to repeat as state champions in next week's state Final Four in Birmingham.
The Lady Tigers (24-4) begin play in the state tournament next week on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 4:00 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center against the Northwest Regional champion.
Lady Tigers 74, Leeds 31
The Lady Tigers began the tournament well aware that a Feb. 19 win against the Leeds Greenwave would earn them a spot in the tournament's title game and present the opportunity for a return trip to Birmingham in the state's Final Four.
If their performance against Leeds (15-11) was an accurate indication, the Lady Tigers are dead serious about adding a second-straight state championship trophy to their collection. It was apparent from the opening tip that Miller was ready to play, as the Lady Tigers shot out of the starting gate in full stride and refused to let up until the contest was unquestionably decided in their favor.
In the opening seconds of the game, Brittnee Malloyd converted a steal into a 3-point play that previewed the type relentless, harassing defense Miller would use to score points in droves. With a ball-hawking, full-court defensive set, the Lady Tigers virtually put the game out of reach before the end of the opening quarter.
Following Malloyd's initial effort that put Miller up 3-0, three more steals by Ashley Samuel, Akia Suarez and KeonShaye Lane were translated into baskets for a 9-0 Lady Tiger lead with 6:11 still remaining in the first period. Yet another theft and ensuing bucket from Joy Mcorvey was followed by two points from Samuel that allowed Miller to hold a 13-0 advantage. McCorvey struck again with a transition basket to push the lead to 15-0 before four consecutive Greenwave points made the score stand at 15-4. Samuel's drive down the middle of the lane for a basket was then answered by a Leeds' basket to hold Miller's advantage to 17-6 with just over two minutes to go in the quarter. But, the Lady Tigers kept coming as the seconds ticked down, as a Jasmine Sanford layup was followed by Samuel's short jump shot that upped the lead to 21-6 entering the second stanza.
With Miller's superior quickness and athleticism apparent, the onslaught continued in the second quarter. If there were any questions about the Lady Tigers' complete control at the end of the opening period, they were put to rest with a 13-0 run to begin the second stanza. After building a 34-6 advantage with 3:15 to go in the quarter, the Lady Tigers responded to a Greenwave basket by going on a 17-0 run to end the half. Led by McCorvey, Malloyd, Lane and Samuel, Miller simply exploded offensively in the closing minutes of the period to enter intermission with an overwhelming 51-8 advantage.
As if a 43-point lead at the midway point of the contest were not enough, the Lady Tigers scored the first nine points of the third quarter to push the lead to 60-8. While Leeds' offensive efforts continued to be stymied by the relentless Miller pressure, the Lady Tigers remained in a groove on the offensive end of the court and entered the fourth period up by 54 points, 70-16.
With the outcome of the game no longer an issue, the Miller starters sat out the entire final quarter. The Greenwave took advantage of the welcomed break by outscoring the Lady Tigers 15-4 the rest of the way to reduce Miller's winning margin to 74-31.
Offensive leaders for the Lady Tigers were Ashley Samuel, 20 points; Brittnee Malloyd, 16 points; Joy McCorvey, 14 points and 11 rebounds; and KeonShaye Lane, 10 points.
Lady Tigers 48, Francis Marion 31
In Saturday's tournament finale, the Francis Marion Lady Rams (13-10) presented a relatively stiff challenge in the opening quarter before the Lady Tigers asserted their dominance and gradually pulled away to a comfortable victory.
The game was played in a back-and-forth manner in the opening minutes. The Lady Rams held a 6-5 lead before a KeonShaye Lane jump put Miller up 7-6 with 3:01 left in the period. Then, four points from Ashley Samuel coupled with a basket by Joy McCorvey completed an 8-0 Miller run to end the quarter and gave the Lady Tigers some breathing room at 13-6.
Neither team's offense settled into a comfortable rhythm in the second quarter of play. But, the intense defensive effort of the two squads was largely responsible for the low-scoring period. Two free throws by Brittnee Malloyd started things off for Miller and padded the lead to 15-6 before a Mcorvey rebound and putback stretched the margin to 17-6. After Francis Marion produced three consecutive points that reduced the lead to 17-9 with 3:30 to go in the half, Malloyd and Samuel led the Lady Tigers on a 4-1 quarter-ending run that allowed Miller to head into the halftime break enjoying a 21-10 advantage.
In a hotly contested third quarter, the Lady Tigers opened their biggest lead of the game midway through the period only to see the Lady Rams rally to close the gap. Samuel, McCorvey and Lane paved the way on the offensive end of the floor as Miller pushed the lead out to 31-14 with 3:00 left in the quarter. However, Francis Marion fought back with two straight baskets that tightened things up at 31-18 as the teams headed into the final eight minutes of the contest.
The Lady Tigers responded to the Lady Rams' late third-period run by completely taking charge in the fourth quarter. After padding the cushion to 36-20 with just under 4:00 remaining in the game, four points from McCorvey coupled with a free throw by Samuel totally put the game out of reach at 41-20 with only 2:30 left. From there, the Lady Tigers put the finishing touches on a 48-31 win that placed them in next week's Final Four in Birmingham.
Ashley Samuel led Miller with 24 points while Joy McCorvey added 10 points.
The Lady Tigers were well represented on the regional all-tournament team. Ashley Samuel earned top honors as the tournament MVP while Joy McCorvey and Brittnee Malloyd each secured a spot for their outstanding play.