MURRAY - Before the season began, Marshall County coach Joseph Simmons didn't think his team was the best in the First Region.
Yes, the Lady Marshals had won the region championship the previous two years. But he was focused on the fact that they had lost four of their top six players and would have nine freshmen compared with two seniors.
After beating Murray 54-44 in the First Region girls championship Monday at Murray State, he believes his team is the best.
"I think tonight solidified that," Simmons said. "Right now, we solidified we're the No. 1 team in the region."
The Lady Marshals (30-5) won behind junior Michaela Manley's second consecutive strong game. She scored 19 points one night after draining 15 in a semifinal win against Paducah Tilghman and was named the MVP of the tournament.
Her stepping up, Simmons believes, is just indicative of what's made his team strong.
"We don't have a superstar," he said. "Different nights, different people step up. That just says a lot about our program."
The stats, at least from Monday, bear that out. No player collected more than 10 rebounds, but three had at least six.
An early second-quarter shot by Manley gave the Lady Marshals the lead for good at 14-13. They took a 24-21 lead into halftime and went on a 11-7 run to build a seven-point lead, 35-28. The Lady Tigers (28-6) then scored five consecutive points to trim the deficit to 35-33 but wouldn't get to within less than four points in the fourth quarter.
Lady Marshals forward Allie York finished with 13 points and guard Bailey Greer 10. Lady Tigers freshman Maddie Waldrop earned yet another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while forward Kayleigh House had nine points and six rebounds.
The Lady Marshals won both postseason games against Murray after losing both in the regular season.
"We just could never get over the hump," Lady Tigers coach Rechelle Turner said. "All the credit to them: They made big plays all year in the big games when they needed to. I guess they got better, and we didn't. They're good."
Simmons believes his team rallied after consecutive five-point losses to Graves County and Murray.
"I think they said, 'If we're going to win this thing, we better turn it around,'" he said. "They buckled down and said we want to win this thing and get back to (E.A.) Diddle (Arena, where the state tournament is held in Bowling Green). From that moment on, our defense was phenomenal."
Added Greer: "We just came out ready and pumped. I think (in the) postseason we were more ready. We just knew that it was time to win. We did."
Now the Lady Marshals are playing in their third consecutive state tournament. At noon on Thursday, they'll face Perry County Central (23-6), which won the 14th Region and also went to the state tournament in 2011 and 2012. Its best player is senior Alyssa Rankin, a forward who has averaged 29 points and 14.9 rebounds. Simmons called her the best player in the state.
"Our girls are going to be prepared," he said. "We're going to enjoy it, but we want to win the thing."
Murray 9 21 33 44
Marshall County 12 24 37 54
MURRAY -- Turley 8, Maddie Waldrop 14, House 7, Thiede 9, Ramey 3, Grogan 3.
Field goals -- 15/44. 3-pointers 3/13 (Thiede 2, Ramey). Free throws 11/18. Rebounds 34. Fouls 20.
MARSHALL COUNTY -- Greer 10, York 13, T. Fehrenbacher 3, Manley 19, Bailey 2, Langhi 6, Barnard 1.
Field goals -- 17/44. 3-pointers 2/9 (York 2). Free throws 18/29. Rebounds 32. Fouls 17.
Girls All First Region Tournament Team -- Taylor West (Graves County), Elizabeth Grogan (Murray), Michaela Manley (Marshall County), Bailey Hawkins (Graves County), Bailey Greer (Marshall County), Macey Turley (Murray), Karlee Humphrey (Paducah Tilghman), Jacqueline Roof (McCracken County), Alex Kohler (Paducah Tilghman), Allie York (Marshall County), Alyssa Barnard (Marshall County) and Maddie Waldrop (Murray).
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.