Heart-breaking end for Lady Tigers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
CAIRO – The Troup Lady Tigers felt they were destined to reach the state-championship game for the second straight season, but it wasn’t meant to be.
With some of its key players in foul trouble almost from the get-go, Troup fell to Cairo 55-51 in the semifinals of the Class AAAA state tournament on Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Lady Tigers, the tone was set from the jump when two of their top players, Aniya Palmer and Alexcia Murphy, were tagged with two fouls apiece, sending them to bench for most of the first quarter.
While Palmer ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter, Murphy’s playing time was limited after she collected her fourth foul early in the third quarter.
Palmer and Jada Green both ended up fouling out, and Murphy and Samarria Weldon ended the game with four fouls.
Cairo didn’t have the same issues, with none of its players in foul trouble during the game.
A calling card for the Lady Tigers during their tournament run has been their suffocating and relentless defense, but that part of the game was rendered partially ineffective because of the constant foul calls.
Despite everything that went wrong, the Lady Tigers had possession with less than 30 seconds left trailing by two, but they were unable to convert, and Jy’Nijah Cooper made two free throws with 13 seconds left to give the Lady Syrupmakers a four-point lead.
Troup missed on its end, and time ran out after Cairo collected the rebound.
“It just hurts, because you know we should have won this game,” said Troup head coach Carla Thornton. “My girls did everything they could to try to fight through what was going on, and in the end it just wasn’t enough.”
Troup, which won three state-tournament games to reach the semifinals, finished with a 15-6 record.
Troup was hoping to return to the state-championship game after falling to Americus-Sumter last season.
“I hate it for them,” Thornton said. “They had big plans for this year, and they came together as a team. To have this happen, it hurts.”
Despite their limited time on the court, Palmer and Murphy combined for 29 points.
Palmer led the Lady Tigers with 18 points, with 12 of those points coming in the second quarter as she helped her team build a 33-23 halftime lead.
Murphy was effective when she was in the game, with the sophomore post player scoring 11 points.
Angie Dowdell capped a stellar freshman season by scoring eight points, and Weldon and Green added six and five points, respectively.
Ambria Vicks led Cairo with 18 points, and Chambria Vicks added 11 points.
With Palmer and Murphy missing most of the first quarter, Cairo was able to build a 16-8 lead.
In the second quarter, the Lady Tigers showed how dangerous a team they can be when they’re at full strength.
Murphy, rested and ready to make an impact, converted a three-point play moments into the second quarter, and that was the start of a 16-0 run that gave the Lady Tigers a 24-16 lead.
The Lady Tigers were forcing turnovers, converting on the offensive end, and they outscored the Syrupmakers 25-7 in the second quarter to build a 33-23 lead.
Murphy scored moments into the second half to put the Lady Tigers on top 35-23, but it went downhill from there.
Cairo clawed its way back into the game and got within one before Palmer drained a 3-pointer to extend the Troup lead to 41-37 left in the third quarter.
Troup didn’t score again in the third quarter, though, and by the time the fourth quarter came around, Cairo had a 43-41 lead.
Troup reclaimed the lead on back-to-back baskets by Dowdell and Murphy in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Cairo hung tough and took a 51-49 lead with a little more than three minutes to play.
After falling behind by four, the Lady Tigers got within two on a pair of Monyia Murphy free throws with 1:10 to play, but they didn’t score again.
Troup’s hopes were severely hurt when Palmer, the Region 2-AAAA player of the year, fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
Cairo will play Carver-Columbus for the state championship on Wednesday in Macon.