MMI girls lose to Autauga Academy

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 11, 2005

The Marion Military Institute Lady Tigers knew they were in trouble when they walked into the locker room at halftime on Thursday with 15 team fouls.

With two starters already out of the lineup with injuries, the Tigers and coach Michelle Ivey understood that early fouls could mean their demise.

The Lady Tigers’ final foul proved to be the most lethal. Melinda Hardin sank a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining as Autauga Academy beat MMI, 38-36, in the Class 1A, West Area IV Regional semifinals at Faulkner College.

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The loss ends the season for the Lady Tigers (19-4).

“We can’t afford that many fouls,” Ivey said. “We didn’t have much of a bench and it showed. It came down to experience and we didn’t have the experience.”

The Lady Tigers were already without Samantha Suttle and Jomeika Smith, sidelined with season-ending injuries. Their absence left the Lady Tigers with just eight dressed for the game. Autauga Academy manipulated that weakness with a hard line game plan to attack the middle of the MMI defense. By the end of the first half, the plan had somewhat worked to perfection. Guard Emily Easley was on the bench with four fouls, while forward Marta Wilson and 6-foot, 3-inch center Felicia Sprott had three fouls apiece. The Lady Tigers, however, still owned a 21-18 lead at intermission.

MMI appeared in complete control in the third period. After the two teams traded baskets, the Lady Tigers capped the quarter with a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 30-20. Despite playing with two fouls, forward Yolanda Kelly maintained her aggressive offensive presence. Kelly scored six consecutive points during the run, the final two coming on a drive into the paint, where she pulled up for a 12-foot jumper to give MMI a 29-20 advantage. Sprott added a free throw before the period closed to make it a 10-point MMI lead.

After scoring its next three points from the foul line, Autauga Academy rallied in the fourth. With MMI leading 32-25, Mary Beth Durbin’s offensive rebound and baseline jumper cut the margin to five.

Following an MMI turnover, guard Amy Wilson’s jumper from the foul line narrowed the gap to 32-29. Hardin then hit a running lay-up through the paint to make it a one-point game with 3:28 to go.

After Sprott picked up her fourth foul with a push to Hardin behind the three-point line, the Autauga Academy forward sank all three charity shots to give her team a 34-32 lead with 22:21 to go.

Autauga Academy led 36-34 until Kelly hit both free throws to tie the game with 53.4 seconds left. A kicked ball by Autauga Academy gave the Lady Tigers an opportunity to take back the lead, but MMI turned the ball over on an errant pass.

On Autauga’s next possession, Hardin was stationed on the right wing when she had the ball slapped out of her hands. As Hardin retrieved the ball, officials whistled the Lady Tigers for reaching in, sending Hardin to the foul line.

“It’s easy to say ‘what if,'” Ivey said of the loss. “But ‘what if’ doesn’t get you to the Final Four.”