MURRAY — Early on in the season, a local rivalry is good-natured fun, but that all changes when district tournament time rolls around. Tonight the losing team will be sent home with their season cut short while the winner advances to the district championship and more importantly the regional tournament. The Lady Tigers and Lady Lakers will go head-to-head in the first round of the district tournament at Marshall County at 6 p.m.
The Lady Lakers have swept the season series, but it was Murray High who took control of the matchup the last time the two teams met. They dominated 13-2 in the first quarter; however, a full-court press from Calloway and too many turnovers from Murray turned the score around to a 57-42 Lady Laker win.
In order to secure a third win against Murray, Calloway will have to make sure to get the lead early on and keep it.
“That’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about over the past three weeks, being able to come off strong,” Lady Laker head coach Valerie Waller said. “We want to come out and play like we did against McCracken and against Graves and just have a good start as much as anything. That’s going to take being aggressive. That’s what got us back in the game against Murray at the CFSB Center: our defense. That’s what makes our kids comfortable and more relaxed, if they can focus on the defense. If you focus on the defense, the offense will take care of itself.”
But now that Murray has had a taste of the Calloway full-court press, they’re sure to have a game plan to counter it. Not to mention, Murray High’s defense itself is nothing to neglect.
“They’re a tough team to guard, but we’ve hung our hats on the defensive end all year and the offense kind of follows that when we can get it, but I like the way we guard them,” Lady Tiger head coach Tom Foust said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing going into it. If we can limit some turnovers, we’ve really hunkered down on what we can do better against what they do. It will take a really good shooting night for them in the half-court if we limit the turnovers.”
Calloway is expecting nothing less.
“They’ll definitely be more prepared for the press because that was the difference-maker for us to win the game,” Waller said. “I think they’ll do some things differently and we’ll have to adjust, but we had to adjust when we played them at the CFSB Center. The first half we pressed, it wasn’t really effective. We made some adjustments at half time and it was more effective.”
Waller has taken pride in her team’s ability to adjust since the beginning of the season and expects no different tonight.
“Adjustments are going to be crucial because they’re going to have to be made,” she said. “We know them; they know us, but as far as in-game strategies, those are just kids being able to execute.”
One athlete in particular that Murray High will have to watch out for is Murray State commit, Charlee Settle.
“I think we’ve defended them well in the half-court all year, but we’ve got to put a body on Settle on the glass,” Foust said. “She’s such a tough kid and she’s going to fight every second she’s out there. If we lose her at any time, she’s going to make us pay for it. That’s something we’ve shown in film. That kid doesn’t quit moving. If a shot goes up, whether she shoots it or not, she’s following it and beating and banging and getting offensive rebounds.”
And the right man for the job is none other than junior Angela Gierhart.
“Angie is a great athlete, can do a lot,” Foust said. “We ask a lot of her. She usually guards Settle for us and fights her tooth and nail.”
But lately, something new has been motivating Settle: the realization that her high school basketball career is coming to an end. In her last three games, Settle has been averaging more than 27 points per game.
“She’s felt that for awhile, her high school season no matter what happens is coming to an end in days,” Waller said. “I’ve been so proud of how she has played the last couple of weeks. You can tell there’s just a little more urgency in her step and the things that she does. There’s just more purpose there because she knows that, no matter what, there’s only so many games left in her high school career. She’s more than ended her high school career on a positive note and I think she’ll continue that the rest of the way out.”
Murray High also has a senior who knows each game this week has the potential to be her last — Calli Carver.
“You always want a kid with that kind of mentality in situations like this,” Foust said. “She is a really tough-minded kid. She steps up in big moments like this. She likes that pressure, and we need it. She’s ready for the test.”
But neither team is capable of just winning with one player, no matter how bad that one player wants the win. That could be seen last time Calloway played Marshall and Settle was the only Lady Laker to score in the first half and totaled 31 points in the loss.
“We’ve got to play as a whole,” Waller said. “When we’ve got three or four kids in double digits other than Charlee, we’re pretty hard to beat. I think that’s going to be important for us. We’ve got to have other kids score...It takes a lot of pressure off her and it’s hard to defend her. It’s hard to defend her anyway, but then when you have three, four other kids on the floor that can score, it makes it impossible to guard Charlee.”
With a lack of depth and age, both teams have come a long way this season. Despite what happens tonight, a great team will be sent home.