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T.R. Miller's chance for a repeat ends in semi-finals

By By SCOTT COOPER - Sports Writer
This past Wednesday's Class 3A state semifinal matchup between the T.R. Miller Lady Tigers and Lauderdale County in Birmingham featured two teams intent on retaining state championship crowns.
The Lady Tigers, last season's Class 4A champs now competing in 3A after a reclassification, did battle with defending Class 3A champion Lauderdale County for the right to advance to this season's 3A title game.
The two teams' styles were similar on defense, but quite different on offense. While T.R. Miller and Lauderdale County possessed the quickness and tenacity to create havoc with full-court pressure defense, Miller relied on its ability to run the floor offensively to create points. Lauderdale County, on the other hand, used offensive precision from a half-court set to consistently work the ball in close for easy baskets. In the end, it was Lauderdale County who held the upper hand and advanced with a 65-51 victory.
From the opening tip, it was apparent the game would be a dogfight. In a fast-paced opening quarter, the Lady Tigers left little doubt they planned to use the full length of the floor while Lauderdale County showed good pressure defense as well as an uncanny ability to score points inside the paint.
Lauderdale County (30-3) grabbed a 6-0 lead early in the game after four points underneath and a basket off a forced Miller turnover. Brittnee Malloyd's jump shot coupled with an Ashley Samuel basket pulled the Lady Tigers within two, 6-4, but then Lauderdale County went on a 6-0 run to push their lead to 10-4 with 4:31 to go in the first period. Miller responded with a 7-0 run, as a Joy McCorvey rebound and putback was followed by five consecutive points from Akia Suarez that gave the Lady Tigers their first lead of the game at 11-10. The Lauderdale County players again regained the advantage at 16-13 before Samuel's driving layup pulled Miller within one, 16-15. However, two baskets from in close allowed Lauderdale County to end the period in possession of a 20-15 lead.
In the second quarter, the teams settled down into a more patient and slower-paced rhythm. Miller (24-5) throttled-down its running game and was content to work more from a half-court set. The tactic was successful, as the Lady Tigers cut into the lead before the halftime break.
After Lauderdale registered the first basket of the period to stretch their advantage out to 22-15, the Lady Tigers embarked on a 9-0 run that gave them the lead. Samuel got things going with a 3-point play and then a McCorvey putback was followed by a Suarez jumper that tied the score at 22 with 6:10 remaining in the half. McCorvey's basket inside the paint placed Miller out front, 24-22, before Lauderdale County answered with the game's next six points to reassume a 28-24 advantage.
In the last two minutes before intermission, Samuel broke the Lauderdale County press and nailed a short jumper before an Asher Moore transition basket once again knotted the score at 28. But, a Lauderdale County jumper just before the buzzer sent the Lady Tigers into the locker room at the break trailing 30-28.
Miller opened the third quarter suffering from cold shooting, both inside the paint and from the perimeter. Meanwhile, Lauderdale County's full-court pressure defense accounted for several baskets off steals and led to a decided advantage by the end of the period.
Lauderdale County began the quarter with a 15-4 run that put them comfortably ahead, 45-32, and made the Lady Tigers' goal of a victory an uphill battle the rest of the way. Samuel scored a basket underneath to cut the deficit to 45-34 before a Lauderdale County 3-pointer padded the cushion to 48-34 with 1:10 left in the period. A Samuel free throw in the closing minute pulled Miller a bit closer at 48-35 as the teams headed to the final stanza.
Early in the fourth quarter and with three Miller starters having fouled out of the game, Lauderdale County appeared in complete control with a 54-39 lead. Baskets by Samuel and KeonShaye Lane gave the Lady Tigers some hope by reducing the deficit to 54-43, but then Lauderdale County scored the next seven points to up the lead to 61-43. Although Samuel and Lane paced a determined Lady Tiger offensive charge late in the game, Lauderdale exited with a 65-51 victory that placed them in the championship game.
Ashley Samuel led the Lady Tigers with 18 points.