MURRAY – For Marshall County’s Lady Marshals, Saturday night’s First Region girls’ basketball tournament championship game was more than a battle for a trip to the state tournament.
There was the pressure of trying to beat a rival for a fourth time in a season, and there was the weight of history, the tradition of domination over the region that two-time state champion Marshall County has enjoyed over the years.
And there was the contentious Fourth District championship game, involving the same two teams, 10 days earlier.
All of that turned into motivation for the Lady Marshals, who erased any doubts and left no questions unanswered in a 60-50 victory over Murray’s Lady Tigers Sunday afternoon at the CFSB Center.
It’s the 20th region title for Marshall County, and the first since 2009.
“I’m just amazed that we won by 10 points,” said senior Tory Fehrenbacher, the tournament’s most valuable player after a 23-point performance in the championship game.
“That’s such a great feeling, to take everyone’s doubts, saying that we didn’t even win that last game, and then to win by 10 – that’s a great feeling.”
The Lady Marshals captured the district title with a 61-60 overtime win over Murray Feb. 23. The game-winning tip-in was ruled good by officials in a finish that stirred controversy over whether the game clock had already expired.
If revenge was a motivator for the Lady Tigers, disrespect was at least an equal one for the Lady Marshals.
“We wanted it bad,” said sophomore Allie York, who got the much-debated winning tip-in in the district game.
Fehrenbacher poured in 23 points to lead the Lady Marshals.
“She’s huge. She’s huge,” Lady Marshals coach Joseph Simmons said. “She’s a senior and she knew this was it if we didn’t make it.”
Fehrenbacher was a freshman the last time the Lady Marshals won the region title, in 2009. She leads the team back to Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, where the Lady Marshals will play Second Region champion Hopkinsville at noon Thursday.
A three-point basket by Fehrenbacher put the Lady Marshals on top 9-7 with 1:21 remaining in a back-and-forth first quarter, and Marshall County never trailed again. They built a lead of as much as 12 points in the final period.
“The thing we wanted to do was to get ahead at the beginning of the game,” said junior Taylor Meadows. “We kept that lead and were up by five at halftime and we said we’re gonna back out there and bring the same intensity and we’re not let ‘em come back, and we did that.”
Eventually. But not without a fight from Murray, which closed the gap to three twice early in the second half, fell behind by 10 and then fought back to trail by seven, 39-32, after three period.
“We kind of had a lull there,” Simmons said. “We weren’t scoring and we were letting them score too easily. And we finally got back to guarding. We mixed our defenses up and finally came down with some huge rebounds and became more aggressive again. It was like we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
The Lady Tigers’ last gasp came on a three-pointer by Armstrong that cut the lead to 46-43 with 2:29 to go.
Marshall County responded with a three by Fehrenbacher, who hit both of her attempts from behind the arc. The lead grew to as much as 11 after that.
Murray saw its hopes for revenge dashed by the Lady Marshal defense. Murray managed only 33 percent shooting from the floor, including three of 18 (16.7 percent) from outside the three-point line.
The Lady Marshals, meanwhile, showed patience and poise on offense and shot at a 44 percent clip for the game, including four of 10 (40 percent) from long range.
They also made good on 18 of 20 free throws, a 90 percent figure.
The Lady Marshals completed a sweep of four games against Murray, this one by a greater margin than the other three combined. The Lady Tigers fell 53-49 in December on their home court and dropped a 41-39 decision at Marshall County in February.
Marshall County advanced to the championship with a 52-28 win over Lone Oak in the semifinals, delayed by threatening weather from Friday to Saturday. Murray scored a decisive 77-59 win over Paducah Tilghman, rated the top team in the region, in the other semifinal game.
Meadows added 15 points for Marshall County and Mariah McKenty scored 10.
York had six points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds as the Lady Marshals won the boards 32-25.
Leading scorers Janssen Starks and Armstrong scored 13 points apiece for Murray, but struggled. Each hit only three field goals, Starks on 13 attempts including one of eight from long range and Armstrong on 10 tries, including one of three from three-point range.
Shelby Crouch fared better percentage-wise, scoring 11 points on three-of six shooting from the floor and five-of-five from the free-throw line. Crouch also led Murray with seven rebounds.
“They got a lot taken out of them last night,” Simmons said, referring to Murray’s semifinal game against Tilghman, “and I think you could see that in the first quarter. We had a few leak-outs and Starks looked winded early.
“But we knew they had a lot of fight. That’s what champions are made of and they’re a championship-type team.”
Marshall County takes a 27-8 record into state tournament play. Murray ends its season with a 25-9 mark.
Meadows, York and McKenty all were named to the all-tournament team, along with Armstrong, Starks and Crouch, Meagan Murray and Haley Boyd of Lone Oak and Chelsey Shumpert of Paducah Tilghman.