MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Only twice since 1976, which is when the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) moved from the large- and small-school divisions to the current classifications, has a team from the city of Memphis taken home the state title in the largest class, 3A. In fact, only four times during those 33 years has a team from what is generally considered any part of west Tennessee taken that championship banner off into the sunset.
When the smoke clears from Friday's semifinals, Memphis or Nashville could very well have two of its own facing each other in the championship game. Whether the final ends up being a battle for city bragging rights, you can bet Southern hospitality might just have to sit that one out.
Memphis Central (33-1), No. 21 in the ESPN Rise Fab 50, will face McGavock High School (29-3), out of the Music City. The other semifinal will pit Memphis Overton (26-6) against Nashville's other representative, Hillsboro (31-1).
The Lady Burros of Hillsboro have bragging rights because they own two wins over McGavock. Memphis Central has already beaten Memphis Overton twice -- once during the city championship and once in the region final.
Based on record and Thursday's performances, it would be hard not to anticipate a Hillsboro-Central matchup for Saturday's final. Both teams have the depth that it takes to win three games in three days against the state's best and both have more than one individual who can step up when the game is on the line. But, Overton and McGavock are both very well coached teams and are not going to go quietly. Neither will beat themselves and if their opponents aren't careful they could find themselves in the stands rather than on the bench in the Murphy Center Saturday night.
Only one of Thursday's quarterfinal games went down to the wire and three of the four games ended up with double-digit margins of victory. Nonetheless, there was outstanding play on both sides of the ball for all eight teams and a lot of promising young talent shining on the big stage.
Nashville Hillsboro 65, Powell 45
The day's first game saw Powell take a two-point lead over Hillsboro into the locker room at the half only to see it reverse itself and grow into a 20-point margin of defeat at the final buzzer. Lakeisha Crouch, a 5-foot-10 junior wing for Hillsboro, had the day's most impressive individual performance: 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting and 22 rebounds. The Xavier-early commit plays an aggressive and explosive game that finds her attacking with the ball, on the boards and defensively. She and her Lady Burro teammates forced a disciplined and fundamental Powell team into 11 second-half turnovers and grabbed 12 of their 23 total offensive rebounds during that span. Sophomore post Isabelle Harrison provides a second punch with a fluid and athletic game that shows moments of tremendous promise. The 6-1 standout produced a double-double as well, combining 14 points and 13 rebounds. Senior point guard Vacie Perry added 15 points with her explosive penetration and impressive speed in transition. Powell got a highlight final game from senior guard Brittany Allen. Shooting 8-for-15 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range, the 5-8 guard finished with 25 points. The Lady Panthers could manage only 28 percent shooting from the field as a team.
Memphis Overton 43, Blackman 40
The second game of the session saw Blackman never trail until 1:32 left in the game and end up losing a three-point decision to a young and talented Memphis Overton team. The Lady Blaze got a last look at a 3-pointer to tie with one second on the clock, but some marginal contact and a non-call saw their season come to an end. Junior guard Jasmine Robinson led the way for Overton with 15 points, 10 of which came at the free-throw line. Her penetration is almost at will and she creates havoc against both man and zone defenses when she gets in the paint. As a team, the Lady Wolverines got to the line 32 times, making 20, while Powell could only connect on 11-of-20 attempts. In the end, those nine misses made the difference as Overton was out scored from the field 29 to 23, but moves on to the semifinals anyway. Textbook junior point guard Shelby Campbell showed some tools in defeat for Blackman, scoring 10 of their 19 first-half points and finishing the game with 15. Overton's defensive face-guarding and aggressive denial kept the ball out of her hands a large portion of the second half and contributed to 11 critical turnovers, which keyed the final run for Overton.
Memphis Central 51, Tennessee 39
Memphis Central jumped out to an early lead in their matchup with Tennessee High and, while the Lady Warriors might have glanced over their shoulders, they never looked back. All five starters scored in the first quarter as Central jumped out to a 13-4 lead, while holding Tennessee High to just 2-of-12 shooting. The second period only got worse for the lady Vikings because they only made one more field goal and went to the locker room trailing 29-8. Middle Tennessee-signee Jamila Anjanaku looked comfortable on her future home court, showing the size, versatility and athleticism that makes her a tough matchup for defenders. The 6-foot wing can handle the ball, create her own shot, finish in traffic, shoot the pull up or knock down the 15-footer. Freshman Danielle Ballard has the potential to be something special as well. At 5-8, she has the physical build, skills and maturity of someone several years older. She's a creative ballhandler, who can penetrate and score or fire a deadly jumper off the dribble. Central could only extend its lead by one in the third quarter as their defense softened a bit with the large lead. Kimberly Wood finished with 17 points for Tennessee with 15 of those coming in the second half. Ballard led the way for the Lady Warriors with 15, Burgess added 10 and another impact freshman, Aaliyah Whiteside, added 10 in the winning effort.
Nashville McGavock 50, Cookeville 35
The final game of the evening saw Cookeville lead the majority of the first half only to allow a scrappy and relentless McGavock team to tie it up with seven seconds left before the break. Cookeville senior Erin Helton, a Tennessee-Chattanooga signee, dominated the first half inside finishing the first 16 minutes with eight points and nine rebounds. The 6-2 post is most effective down low, has sound footwork and looks for the ball. McGavock took the lead to open the third quarter and gradually extended out to the final margin of 15 in the end. Junior Tanesha Stenson quietly recorded a double-double for the Lady Raiders with 14 points and 11 rebounds. The physically strong, 5-7 guard can penetrate smoothly to the hole, but has a good stroke from the perimeter as well. Helton tried to keep Cookeville in it and finished with 13 points and 10 boards before finishing her last game with the Lady Cavs by fouling out with 4:18 remaining. Senior Arieyelle O'Neal led the way for McGavock with 16 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
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Mark Lewis is the National Recruiting Coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.