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Lady Tigers start slowly, finish as Area champs

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Programs that own three state titles and several other deep postseason runs know now is the time when they have to step things up.
Even though the T.R. Miller Lady Tigers got an early scare from the Clarke County Lady Bulldogs in Saturday's Class 3A Area 1 Tournament championship game, they revved up their engine for a decisive 63-35 triumph.
"I don't like to toot my own horn, but we've got a pretty good team. These girls have been through this before and they know when they have to turn things up," T.R. Miller coach Ron Jackson said.
The Lady Tigers (25-2 and winners of 14 straight) got an early surprise from a Clarke Coutny team it ambushed by scores of 82-34 and 71-24 during the regular season.
Behind the perimeter shooting of Jasmine Curtis, Clarke County led nearly the entire first quarter. Curtis hit a trio of three-pointers, as the Lady Bulldogs took early leads of 5-0, 7-2 and 13-9.
"It's an old cliche, but it's tough to beat a team three times in a season. It's hard to get players fired up to play when you're playing a team you've beaten soundly like we have against Clarke County," Jackson said. "Give Clarke County a lot of credit. They came out and shot the ball really well and forced us to extend our half-court defense."
As well as the Lady Bulldogs played in the opening frame, they suffered an emotional deflater late in the frame. A pair of free throws by Ashley Samuel and a basket by Joy McCorvey pulled T.R. Miller even at 13-13. Then Samuel drained a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Lady Tigers a 16-13 lead.
"I'm sure that had to have been disappointing to them. As well as they played, they were still behind," Jackson said.
The Lady Tigers' defense started to take over in the second period. During a six-minute stretch, Clarke County missed seven of eight shots with eight turnovers.
On the other end of the floor, T.R. Miller added 10 more points to the 7-0 run it built at the end of the first quarter.
Jasmine Sanford had three field goals during that stretch, while Samuel added another hoop and Keonshaye Lane hit two charity tosses to suddenly give T.R. Miller a 26-13 lead.
The Lady Tigers' lead reached 32-18 after a basket by Samuel, who had 16 of her game high 27 points in the first half, with just over a minute left in the half.
Just when it seemed Clarke County had lost all of its momentum, the Lady Bulldogs got a little spark at the end of the half, as Tiffany Johnson hit a shot from inside the lane and then banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer that cut T.R. Miller's lead to 34-23.
The Lady Tigers' response to that was a 12-0 blitz at the start of the third quarter that knocked their cushion all the way up to 46-23. Samuel and Lane both had a couple of baskets in that stretch, while Sanford and McCorvey exchanged assists on field goals by each other.
A basket by Samuel at the end of the frame not only helped T.R. Miller maintain that 23-point margin of lead at 50-27, but it started a 13-0 run that carried over into the fourth quarter. Samuel had three hoops, one of which was a three-point play, while Sanford added a pair of buckets, as the Lady Tigers' lead grew to a game high margin of 61-27.
The win sends T.R. Miller to Friday's sub-regional round where it will host Francis Marion at 5:30 p.m. Francis Marion came out of Area 6 as the runner-up after a 52-31 loss to Sumter County.
"It's do or die from here on out. We've got some areas where we need to play better. One of them is turnovers. We had 20 turnovers against Clarke County. Some of those came from our reserves late in the game, but our starting unit still had too many, "Jackson said. "Francis Marion has some size we'll have to contend with, but
See LADY TIGERS Page 7A
fortunately we'll have the advantage of getting to play at home," Jackson said.
At T.R. Miller
Clarke County 13 10 4 8 – 35
T.R. Miller 16 18 16 13 – 63
CLARKE COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) T. Johnson 8-1-0-19;
Curtis 0-3-0-9; Denson 0-1-0-3; Davis 1-0-0-2; Snell 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 10-5-0-35)
T.R. MILLER (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Samuel 11-1-2-27; Sanford 7-0-0-14; Lane 2-1-2-9; McCorvey 3-0-3-9; Fountain 1-0-0-2; Smith 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 25-2-7-63)