By Adam Krohn
For the AJC
Miller Grove’s chance at back-to-back state titles is intact, thanks to persistence and a late-game charge against Tucker on Tuesday in the Class AAAA girls quarterfinals.
Led by senior guard Katie Hunt, the Lady Wolverines surged to a 50-40 victory to advance to Saturday’s semifinals at Kennesaw State University. They’ll play the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal game between Thomas County Central and Effingham.
Miller Grove (25-5) trailed the Lady Tigers by as many as nine points in the second half before closing the game on a 22-11 run. Hunt was the key in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points on 6-of-6 free-throw shooting and coming up with two crucial steals with less than two minutes to play. Her two free throws with 11.9 seconds pushed the Lady Wolverines’ lead into double figures for the game’s final score.
“We took Tucker lightly, and we shouldn’t have,” said Hunt, who had a team-high 13 points. “The second half, we just had to come out and do it. It was that or go home, and we didn’t want to go home.”
Miller Grove trailed 24-17 at halftime and didn’t take its first lead until seven minutes left in the game, when two Hunt free throws put the Lady Wolverines ahead 35-34. Tucker’s Nuba Jackson answered with a 3-pointer to put the Lady Tigers ahead 37-35 with 6:47 left, but they wouldn’t hit another field goal the rest of the way.
Tucker still had a chance to pull off the victory, behind 44-40 with 1:30 left, but Hunt’s steal and lay-up, followed by another Hunt steal on Tucker’s ensuing possession, allowed Miller Grove to run crucial time off the clock and finally gain control.
“I tell them all the time that it’s hard to be a team that never quits, and we’re not going to quit,” said Lady Wolverines coach Renee Breedlove, who has coached Miller Grove since the school opened in 2005. “Regardless of what the score is, or how the whistle’s being blown, we’re going to play to the end.”
It was the Lady Tigers’ most successful season since 2004, when they also reached the quarterfinals. Tucker (25-5) controlled the game well into the third quarter, but a right knee injury to starting point guard Tori Robinson late in the second quarter proved too much to overcome, 10-year coach Robin Potter said.
Robinson returned to start the second half, but left the game for good during the opening minutes of the third quarter.
“I think she’s the most underrated guard in the county,” Potter said. “We have a difficult time being on track without her in the game as our point guard. I think that was probably the turning point in the game. We don’t go really deep.”
Tucker stayed in the game because of Jackson, a junior who led all scorers with 16 points, and freshman guard Najla Shamsideen, who scored six points and frustrated the Miller Grove defense all night with her full-court play.
Klarissa Weaver added 10 points for Miller Grove.