by Rusty Ellis
The Livingston Academy Lady Wildcats are one game away from their ultimate goal of bringing a gold ball back to Hogeye country, as they will take on Jackson South Side in the Class 3A Championship on Saturday.
LA has taken down Greeneville and South Gibson in Murfreesboro this week, and it the latter game, head coach Lesley Riddle says it was the defense that stuck out to her from her team’s performance.
“We knew that they were a great three-point shooting team and we weren’t a great man-to-man defensive team,” Riddle said. “We felt like we could really spread our zone out and slow down their threes, and they still got several off, but I think most of them were contested so I was really happy with our defense and holding them to 36 points.”
Defensively, LA has been a great unit at that end all season long. After all, the win over South Gibson was the 14th time this season that Livingston has held a team under 40 points.
Riddle says there were some adjustments made at halftime, as she knew a team like that is more than capable of coming back on anyone.
“They ran some sets we weren’t aware of, so we talked about those,” Riddle said. “We talked about getting some better shots offensively, just to be sure we were still scoring when they were hitting their threes…we didn’t fear they would come back, but we knew they had the arsenal to do so.”
Mallie-Gene Coleman has been one of the biggest reasons for LA’s appearance in the title game, as she’s averaging 13 points per game in the Glass House this week. She’s done so much more than scoring all season long, but Riddle knows that she’s stepped up in a big way in the state tournament.
“We’ve spent the whole season trying to get Mallie-Gene trying to score a little bit more,” Riddle said. “We encouraged it, and I’ve told her that it’s helping us win at this point, so we need that…in the first game, they were forcing her to her left and she likes to go that way.”
Saturday presents the toughest opponent LA has seen yet: the Jackson South Side Lady Hawks. Livingston Academy will have to take down a team that played in this same game a year ago, and Riddle knows it’s a tall task ahead of them in the undefeated Lady Hawks.
“I know they’re extremely fast and quick, and they succeed by causing chaos,” Riddle said. “We need to do a good job of taking care of the ball and valuing our possessions…they do a really good job in the high-low and a really good job on the offensive boards, so we have to do a good job there. It’s going to be a challenge defensively, but my biggest concern is letting them make us crazy and force too many turnovers.”
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the Lady Wildcats are where they want the program to be, moving forward. There’s two teams left playing for a title, and one of them resides in Hogeye country.
No statistic can quantify what that means for Riddle and company.
“It almost feels like it’s brand-new to our community and our school,” Riddle said. “You’re seeing it through the eyes of these kids, because it’s such a great experience. Win or lose, they’ve got great memories to take back from this, and we’re so proud of our community and so thankful for all the support these girls have been given…it is very special. It’s been awhile, so maybe we’re back.”
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