By Noah McKay
MURFREESBORO – The Livingston Academy Lady Wildcats Lady Wildcats advanced to the 2023 Class 3A state championship game with a 50-36 over South Gibson on Thursday at the Murphy Center.
LA used a strong second quarter to propel themselves to the title game for the first time since 2009.
“Elation,” said LA head coach Lesley Riddle. “These guys have had this on their minds all season long. That’s been their goal, and they work so hard every single day. Even when we’ve lost, they come in the next day, and you couldn’t tell they’ve lost. They were ready to just get better every day.”
The Lady Wildcats opened the game on a 7-2 run on baskets by Halle Ledbetter, Ellie Butler and Mallie Gene Coleman. The Lady Hornets answered with three threes, including one at the buzzer for Lily Baggett as they took an 11-9 lead into the second quarter.
The Lady Wildcats dominated the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Hornets 15-6 in the frame with five points from Ellie Butler to take a 24-15 lead into the half.
“That wasn’t much of a cushion, because (South Gibson) can shoot it so well” said Riddle. “I wasn’t comfortable because they could shoot it so well. But you’ve got to get a cushion against a team that can shoot it like that. I thought our defense the whole time was great.”
Aleah Melton and Ledbetter each made two shots in the opening 1:15 of the third quarter to stretch the Hogeye lead to 28-15. The Lady Hornets answered by rattling off a 6-2 run to cut it to 33-24 midway through the frame. Each defense controlled the latter part of the frame as Livingston took a 35-28 lead into the final frame.
The Lady Hornets got a three to open the fourth quarter, but Melton rattled off six points in a 1:16 span as LA expanded the lead to 43-34 with 3:50 remaining. Ledbetter then made four straight free throws down the stretch to secure the victory and send the Livingston faithful in attendance into a thunderous H-O-G-E-Y-E chant.
“We’re blessed with a school and community that supports us,” said Riddle.
Ledbetter led the Wildcats with 19 points while shooting 100% from the field. Melton scored 12 points.
As two of LA’s senior leaders, Riddle says Melton and Ledbetter’s versatility has been critical.
“I believe that your seniors are your coaches on the floor, along with your point guard,” said Riddle. “These two are so versatile… The most important thing is their leadership.”
Coleman added 11 points with a +18 rating on the floor.
The Lady Wildcats (29-7) will take on the winner of Jackson South Side (32-0) vs Elizabethton (30-4) in the Class 3A state championship game on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Murphy Center.
It will be the 10th state title game in LA history, they have won the tournament four times, most recently in 2004.
Highlights by Rusty Ellis:
Photos by Michael Lindsay
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