• 75°

Lady ’Horns headed for state

The Lady Longhorns took control from the outset and scarcely looked back Thursday en route to a 45-37 win over Southern Academy in the first round of the AISA Class AA, Region 2 girls’ tournament at Marion Military Institute.

“(Southern) didn’t have their best ball handler,” Marengo Academy head coach Danny Stenz said following the win. “We played kind of a 3-2 extended zone. The girls, Conner (Etheridge), Maleah (Digmon) and Brooke (Smyly) did a good job on the inside.”

Fifth seed Marengo took a 25-19 advantage into the locker room at halftime before emerging from the intermission to hold fourth-seeded SA to just five points in the third quarter of play.

“Destiny (Huckabee) did a good job out there creating problems,” Stenz said of his sophomore swing player, who has served as one of only two varsity-aged players on the team.

Huckabee scored nine points in the contest, good enough for third highest on the team. Digmon added six while Chandler Stenz led the way with 14 and Katie Tucker scored 13 off the strength of a trio of three-pointers.

The win clinched the team a berth in the AISA Class AA state tournament next week and marked the next step in the rapid development of a program that was forced to go back to Square One two seasons ago after graduation and attrition decimated the roster.

In 2008, Stenz entered the season with two seniors and one junior and was forced to fill the roster with junior high players. The team won four games on the year and entered the second year of the rebuilding process with tempered expectations.

MA started off this campaign with one senior, two sophomores and a roster full of seventh, eighth and ninth graders. Senior Anna Edmonds sustained a knee injury early on, leaving sophomores Huckabee and Digmon to lead the charge.

“It’s the most competitive, determined bunch I think I’ve ever been around,” Stenz said. “They just don’t quit. It doesn’t matter if they are down by 20.”

That moxie has served the team well as all but two of the players have played a full season of junior high games in addition to their varsity slate. Under the AISA format, more than 75 percent of the MA roster has played a junior high game and a varsity game nearly every night of the year. A few weekends ago, the girls put on their junior high jerseys and won the AISA Junior High state title for the second consecutive season.

Stenz is confident the team’s conditioning and persistent need to overcome fatigue and play a second game will serve it well in varsity tournament play.

“One game three nights in a row compared to what we’ve been doing should be a breeze for them,” Stenz said, commenting on the region tournament format that sees teams play Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Following the win Thursday, Stenz was almost mystified by his squad’s sudden success.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said with a smile. “I told them before the game all it took was one game and they were in the state tournament. It’s big. You can’t give them enough credit. All I’ve got to do is bring the basketballs and make sure they show up and they do the rest.”

The win also moved the girls to round two of the region tournament where they were set to square off with top seeded Pickens Academy Friday afternoon. MA lost that game 45-40 and will play Patrician for the No. 3 seed Saturday at 11 a.m.