MURRAY - For months, Marshall County junior Michaela Manley has impressed coach Joseph Simmons in practice. But despite having started every game and averaging about six points, Simmons thought a lack of confidence kept her from carrying more success into games.
Manley broke through with a team-high 15 points in the Lady Marshals' 59-53 Region 1 girls tournament semifinal win against Paducah Tilghman on Sunday at Murray State. The victory placed them in the championship, which is tonight at 8:15, for the third straight year.
"We've been asking her to break out of that shell," Simmons said. "She's a great athlete. I think she can play great defense. We feel like we can put her on anybody, whether it's guards or bigs. She just slowly and quietly gets it done. I'm just proud for her to shine in a big game like that."
The Lady Marshals (28-5) led 32-23 midway through the third quarter, but the Blue Tornado (23-8) went on an 11-0 run to take a 34-32 lead in the waning moments of the period.
Manley, however, ended the Blue Tornado's spurt by evening the score with a bucket, and Alyssa Barnard gave the Lady Marshals the lead for good entering the fourth quarter.
Barnard finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, and teammate Bailey Greer scored 12.
"When Tilghman got their run, we kept our cool and we just kept playing as a team," Manley said. "It feels really good (to win) because they're a great team."
The Blue Tornado's third-quarter run started after guard Alex Kohler and center Jalisa Smith went to the bench after committing their fourth fouls. Blue Tornado coach Roderick Thomas believes losing those two caused his players to rally.
But they weren't able to capitalize after their guards committed several turnovers and their team committed 12 in the second half. The Lady Marshals seized advantage with an 11-5 run to start the fourth quarter, and the Blue Tornado could only draw within six from there.
Kohler finished with a game-high 20 points, and junior Karlee Humphrey had 12 points and nine rebounds. Smith was also one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring 11 and gathering nine.
The loss ends the Blue Tornado's strong season.
"You can't really determine your season by winning a regional championship," Thomas said. "Of course that was our goal, but only one team can win. We had a few good teams in the region and lost to one. We look forward to next year."
The Lady Marshals will play Murray in the Region 1 championship for the third consecutive year. They won the last two and have won nine of the last 15.
But Murray has beaten them twice in three games this season.
"They've got a little bit of everything," Simmons said. "They present a lot of challenges. I think they have one of the best point guards around, not just in the region but the state. Maddie Waldrop looked like an All-American the other night. Murray is a great team."
Paducah Tilghman 14 21 34 53
Marshall County 9 24 36 59
PADUCAH TILGHMAN â “ Gardner, Donelson 3, Shapiro, Shaw 3, Kohler 20, Humphrey 12, Jo. Smith 4, Ja. Smith 11.
Field goals 16/56. 3-pointers 5/17 (Kohler 2, Donelson, Shaw, Humphrey). Free throws 16/20. Rebounds 41. Fouls 26.
MARSHALL COUNTY â “ Greer 12, N. Fehrenbacher, Ross, Miller, York 9, T. Fehrenbacher 6, English 1, Manley 15, Powell, Bailey, Langhi 2, Barnard 14.
Field goals 16/49. 3-pointers 0/7. Free throws 27/44. Rebounds 39. Fouls 16.
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662.