FLORENCE — Getting another shot at winning the TimesDaily Classic was a goal for Lauderdale County this season after losing to Russellville in the 2011 title game.
The Tigers earned another shot with a 72-60 victory over Florence on Monday night at Flowers Hall. Class 3A, No. 1 Lauderdale County (5-1) will play Mars Hill (7-0) in today's championship game at 6 p.m.
"We didn't get what we wanted last year," said senior forward Karlee Brown, who led the Tigers with 24 points. "We felt like we had it in our hands last year and let it slip away. It feels good to get another shot this year."
LCHS threatened to pull away several times against Florence (3-4). The Tigers led by as many as 19 late in the third quarter but were not able to put the Falcons away until the final minute.
Both teams struggled at the free-throw line. The Tigers hit 29 of 39, while Florence was 12 of 26.
"We're just glad to survive that one," LCHS coach Brant Llewellyn said. "It seemed like we were never able to get into a good rhythm, maybe because there were so many fouls called. "We did a good job making plays when we needed to, but we have to get more consistent."
Brown scored seven points in an early 10-0 spurt that gave LCHS a 10-4 lead. The Tigers led 19-15 after one period.
A 3-pointer by Ella Wallen capped a 7-0 run that put the Tigers up 26-17. Florence was able to trim the margin to 33-25 at halftime.
Late in the third period the Tigers appeared to be pulling away. Emma Wallen hit a 3-pointer and a layup in an 8-0 spurt that extended the margin to 54-35.
Florence responded early in the fourth period. The Falcons got 3-pointers from Emily Towery and Kaitlin Thompson to trim the margin to 56-47.
"We were up by 19 and were thinking it was over and all of a sudden they cut it to eight," Llewellyn said. "We have to be able to play more consistently and put teams away early when we have the opportunity."
Eight points was as close as Florence got. The Tigers hit 8 of 14 free throws in the final five minutes to seal the win.
Ivy Wallen added 14 points and Chatara Cox had 12. Alexis Sherrod led Florence with 14, followed by Towery with 13. Lakien Dillard and Thompson scored 10 each for the Falcons.
Mars Hill 58, Deshler 35: Deshler struggled to find its shot in the first half. Meanwhile, Anna Katherine Green and Mars Hill seemed to rarely miss.
The combination allowed the Panthers to remove all suspense early in a TimesDaily Classic semifinals matchup of top-10 ranked girls basketball teams, staking a 20-point lead before halftime of a 23-point win over the Tigers.
"We shot the ball well, but I really think our defense really set up the offense," Green said. "Normally when we play defense like that, good things will happen on offense."
Mars Hill made 12 of 21 first-half shots, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. Green sank three 3s and scored 12 of her career-high 17 points before halftime for Mars Hill.
The sophomore came into the game averaging 1.7 points per game and had not made a 3 in six previous games. She finished with four Monday.
"I guess I felt the ball flowing off my hand tonight," said Green, whose previous scoring high this season was 3 points against Florence and Lauderdale County. "But I really have to credit the defense. That took some pressure off of us."
Deshler made 3 of its 23 shots in the first half, while going 0-of-9 from beyond the arc and turning the ball over 10 times.
Deshler's last lead came at 5-4 with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
Green knocked down her second 3 to give the Panthers a permanent lead at 10-7 with 2:11 left in the quarter.
That sparked an 18-3 run that out Mars Hill ahead 25-10 before taking a 37-14 lead into halftime.
Deshler got no closer than 48-33 early in the fourth quarter.
"We were a little disappointed how we came out the second half, so we have some things to work on," said Mars Hill coach Ashley Rutledge, whose team played Deshler for the first time in her fourth year as head coach. "But Deshler is a good team. I went to the same high school (Lawrence County, Tenn.) as (Deshler coach) Jana Killen. They're well coached and have been good for so long. So for us to finish like that is something to be proud about."
Keyonda Mason's 11 points led Deshler.
Carley Harrison added 16 points and three 3s for Mars Hill, which shot 8-of-16 from 3-point range as a team.
It was the second straight win over a ranked Area 16 rival for the Panthers. They edged Lauderdale County 58-55 a week ago and head into tonight's rematch with confidence.