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Lady Tigers, Tigers take different roads of success into Area 1 Tournament

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
High school basketball has reached that stage of the season where it is do or die.
Well, sort of.
As T.R. Miller High School gets ready to host the Class 3A Area 1 boys and girls tournaments this week, both the host Tigers and Lady Tigers know their season will continue beyond this week. T.R. Miller is the top seed and has a first-round bye in both fields.
While T.R. Miller knows it will move on to next week's sub-regional, the same can not be said about Area 1's other participants, Clarke County and W.S. Neal. Those schools will square off in first-round games Friday. The girls will tip things off at 5 p.m. followed by the boys at 7 p.m.
T.R. Miller will play the winner Saturday for the championship with the same starting times (girls at 5 p.m. and the boys at 7 p.m.).
The top two teams from each area tournament advance to sub-regional competition. Area 1 is paired up against Area 6, which includes Francis Marion, Sumter County and Aliceville.
This week's winner will host the Area 6 runner-up, while the Area 1 runner-up will play at the Area 6 champ. The girls sub-regional will be played February 19, while the boys will play February 20.
Both T.R. Miller teams enter Area 1 red hot, especially the Lady Tigers. The T.R. Miller girls have won 13 games in a row and enter postseason play with a 24-2 record. T.R. Miller has won those 24 games by an average of 39.2 points per contest. Only one of T.R. Miller's 24 victories have come by single digits (a 47-38 win over Alabama Christian back in November).
T.R. Miller went 5-0 against the Area 1 field with wins over W.S. Neal 80-14, 78-14 and 85-16. The Lady Tigers beat Clarke County by scores of 82-34 and 71-24.
"At this point of the season you can't take anybody lightly. If you do, you'll go home," T.R. Miller girls coach Ron Jackson said.
Despite a 47-point win over Clarke County in its last encounter with the Lady Bulldogs, T.R. Miller endured an eight-minute scoreless stretch in the first half.
"They gave us some problems. We just didn't play very well in that stretch and Clarke County had improved quite a bit from the first time we saw them," Jackson said.
T.R. Miller's offensive attack has gotten a boost from sophomore Jasmine Sanford. Sanford has been in double digits in five of the past seven games.
"She has become more consistent. We started playing her some at a small forward and she has started to take advantage of that. Jasmine has a lot of quickness. I'm not sure she realizes how good she can be yet," Jackson said.
T.R. Miller has just one senior, Ashley Samuel, on its roster but the Lady Tigers have plenty of postseason experience.
"Ashley, Joy (McCorvey), Keonshaye (Lane), Jasmine and Krystle (Smith) all went through this last year when we got to the semifinals along with our other sophomores. They know what it
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takes at this point in the season," Jackson said.
Meanwhile the Tigers enter postseason at 15-11 overall and winners of eight of their last 10 games. Unlike the Lady Tigers, the Tigers have won several nailbiters during their surge. T.R. Miller's last seven wins have come in single digits with an average margin of victory of six points per contest.
Defense has been a key part to T.R. Miller's recent success. The Tigers have allowed just 43 points a game in their last eight wins.
"We've done a nice job of controlling the tempo. With the size and depth we have, that is the way we have to play," T.R. Miller coach Rob Atkinson said after last week's win over Flomaton.
Junior guard Gerald Banton has been a big boost to the T.R. Miller turnaround. Banton's surge started with a 12-point performance in a loss to Greenville. He had 11 more in last week's win at Flomaton. He went a perfect six-for-six from the free throw line in Friday's win at Monroe County.
That has been just part of Banton's contributions.
"His defense has been outstanding," Atkinson said after Banton helped hold Flomaton's Alphonso Wesley to five points last week.
Wesley had burned the Tigers for 26 points in their previous meeting.
A tip of the cap goes to the cheerleaders at T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal.
Both squads have been big assets throughout the school years. In football, they have to perform rain or shine, hot or cold, win or lose.
While they do not have to battle the elements in basketball, they do their best to keep the spirits of players and fans at a high level.
T.R. Miller's crew consists of Candice Reeves, Tanner DeFrancisco, Lori Chambers, Amanda Gray, Brooke Hammock, Kelly Robinson, Andrea Singleton, Meredith Davis, Kaila Evans and Ashley Herbert.
W.S. Neal's cheereladering unit consists of Hillary Shelly, Candice Gulley, Lakesha Marshall, Brittany Tagudar, Jullian Crutchfield, Brittani Moton, Tawnya Henry, Andrea King, B.J. Salter and Brenna Ball.
The East Brewton Youth Football and Cheerleading League wil meet February 23 at 6 p.m. at the Agricultural Science Center, which is located behind Southern Pine.
All parents who are interested in their children playing football or cheering next season are encouraged to attend.