The Fourth District basketball tournament tips off tonight at Marshall County’s Reed Conder Gymnasium, with both the Marshals and Lady Marshals in first-round action.
The girls meet Calloway County at 6 p.m. and the boys play Murray at 7:30.
Both teams must win to advance to Thursday night’s championship round, where the top seeds, the Calloway boys and Murray girls, await.
Winner and runner-up will advance to the First Region tournament at Murray State University’s CFBS Center.
Both Marshall squads come into post-season play on five-game winning streaks. The Lady Marshals are 25-5 and the Marshals are 19-10.
Marshall County swept two games against the Lady Lakers, while the Marshals split against the Tigers, with each team winning on the opponent’s home court.
“Since February, we’ve been playing our best basketball, and this is when you want to be doing that,” Lady Marshals coach Joseph Simmons said.
His players cannot afford to look past Calloway, but if they defeat Calloway for a third time and advance, they will meet a Murray team that won both meetings between the two schools this year.
Murray, 26-4, pulled out a come-from-behind win Feb. 8 at Marshall County.
“After that Murray loss [a 45-40 setback, after the Lady Marshals led by 6 at the end of the third period] I saw a change in some of our players,” Simmons said. “They realized we let that slip away from us, not to take anything away from Murray. We’d been more on the attack, and we stopped attacking them. And we had 11 turnovers in that fourth period.”
Calloway County is 14-12.
Junior center-forward Alyssa Barnard leads Marshall County with a 12.6 points-per-game average. She is also averaging 7.9 rebounds per game.
Senior Allie York is hitting at an 11.3 ppg clip and is close behind Barnard with 7.3 rebounds. Junior Bailey Greer is also scoring in double figures at 11.1 ppg.
Summer Simmons (15.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Bailey Brown (8.8 ppg) and Danielle Potts (5.7 rpg) are the top performers for coach Scott Sivills’ team.
Marshals coach Gus Gillespie likes the way his team progressed during the season.
“I feel like we’re a team that has done exactly what I wanted them to do,” Gillespie said. “They’ve improved. They’ve learned how to play to their strengths and fill the roles that we need them to fill. They’ve become more capable and more confident.
“If you can learn and improve and have growth, you’ve had a good regular season.”
The Marshals defeated Murray 64-52 on Jan. 3, but were handed a 50-46 loss in the rematch on Feb. 8 at Draffenville.
The Marshals have not lost since that game.
“As a whole, there were only two games that have been out of hand,” Gillespie said. “One was against the No. 2 team in the state and the other was against one of the best teams in the state of Georgia.
“We’ve played a solid schedule. We haven’t had those nights where we could take it easy and win by 20. It’s been a grind. This team has had adversity, and adversity shows character.”
Murray has a 15-10 record.
The Marshals are led by senior center Austin Rentfrow, who came within a whisker of averaging a double-double. The 6-7 Rentfow hit for 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
Junior Mason Wooten came on strong in the second half of the season, averaging 12.5 points and 5.0 rebounds. Senior Landon Taylor was a solid floor leader, averaging 6.0 points and hitting 70.7 percent from the free-throw line.
No statistics for the Tigers were available.
Murray and Marshall County are the front-runners among First Region girls teams, but Graves County and Paducah Tilghman were also 20-game winners.
Among boys teams, Graves County has the best record at 25-4, followed by St. Mary at 20-9.
Calloway County, McCracken County and Marshall County all have 19 victories to their credit.