By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
MADISON COUNTY —
The Lady Eagles know they will be considered big-time underdogs when they take on Lafayette today in the opening round of the 11th Region Tournament at McBrayer Arena.
So, they really aren’t feeling any pressure at all.
“We don’t have the bullseye on our back,” Madison Southern coach Summer Simmons said. “We’ve just talked (this week) about how hard we’ve worked in the offseason and this is where you apply that. This is where you take that confidence that you’ve gained and put it to work for you.”
The Lady Eagles will try to win their first-ever 11th Region Tournament game when they take on the Lady Generals (19-12) at 6:30 p.m. today.
The winner advances to Saturday’s semifinals to take on either Bryan Station (18-10) or Franklin County (22-10).
The Lady Eagles advanced to the 11th Region Tournament for the third-straight season after defeating Model last week in the semifinals of the 44th District Tournament, 63-43.
They lost in the championship game to Madison Central, 69-30.
Southern (12-19) almost pulled off an upset in the opening round of last year’s 11th Region Tournament, falling to Woodford County, 50-45.
Simmons hopes that her team’s recent postseason experience, along with its familiarity with playing at McBrayer Arena will give them the Lady Eagles some extra confidence heading into a very tough matchup.
“We just have to lay it on the line,” Simmons said. “We have to and I think we will.”
Southern lost three of its final four regular-season games and the coaching staff had to shuffle the lineup after a pair of injuries. Sophomore forward Rachel Ramey and eighth-grade forward Marley Lawson both suffered concussion and are out for the remainder of the season.
Because of those injuries, leading scorer Briana Lanham (freshman forward — 12 points, nine rebounds a game), was moved from the post to the wing and senior centers Sarah Smith and Hayden Westfall have gotten more playing time.
That bigger lineup might make for a much better matchup for Southern against Lafayette.
“We’ve just had to play bigger,” Simmons said. “I’ve got my two seniors in there together at the start of the game. They’ve got the experience that we need out there. We which may not be bad, because Lafayette has two big girls.”
The Lady Generals have three players averaging in double-figures, including two post players. Junior Sarah Cooley is averaging a team-best 12.7 points and 9.8 rebounds. Sophomore Ashanti Thomas is averaging 10.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game.
Sophomore guard Dee Givens is also averaging 11.8 points a game.
The Lady Generals have shot just 29 percent from three-point range this season and only have three players who have connected on consistent basis from long range — Kenyale Demus (36 threes), Givens (32 threes) and Kiara Pankins (13 threes).
With most of Lafayette’s offensive production coming from the interior, Southern will likely rely drop back into a zone defense.
“We are going to try to make the three-point shot look pretty good for them,” Simmons said.
In addition to Lanham, Southern has two other players averaging double-figures in scoring — sophomore guard Samantha Parms and sophomore forward Kelley Freeman.
Southern and Lafayette have not played since the opening round of the 11th Region Tournament in 2011. The Lady Generals won that game, 59-41.