JASPER, Tenn. - The only thing brighter than Emily Webb's mouth full of braces shining in the gym lights were the two gold plaques she held tight.
The Marion County senior had just helped her team earn the District 6-A tournament championship for the first time in six years with a 70-56 win over Van Buren County, and she couldn't contain her metallic grin. One plaque was for the team title, the other for being the most valuable player.
"This feeling is unreal," said Webb, whose 21 points included eight during a 16-3 third-quarter run that gave her team its first cushion. "It's still kind of setting in, but it's great.
"We came out really nervous for some reason, probably because we haven't won a district in so long, but eventually it turned into what it's always been - us just playing basketball and having fun together."
Earlier in the evening, Lookout Valley defeated South Pittsburg 48-40 in the girls' consolation game. The Region 3-A tournament begins this weekend, with girls' games on Friday and the boys playing on Saturday. The higher seeds host the first round before the tournament moves to Marion County for the title games.
Marion's 19th consecutive win this season also snapped Van Buren's four-year stranglehold on the district crown. But it didn't come easily.
Although the Lady Warriors (22-1) had won the regular-season meetings by an average of 26 points, Van Buren led by one after the first quarter and pulled ahead by three with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.
But Marion ended the first half on a 10-0 run and then began pulling away with nine consecutive points midway through the third quarter that eventually became a 16-3 run. The Lady Warriors' lead grew to 18 and Van Buren was never able to get closer than 10 the rest of the way. Marion guard Breanna Vinson led all scorers with 26 points, including five 3-pointers.
Tilly Dodson had 24 points for Van Buren.
"You can tell that they know what it means to be a champion, because they played a great game and really got after us and made us earn it," Marion coach Randy Ellis said said of the Eaglettes. "We had been playing really well coming into this one, but they forced us into some bad shots and turnovers, things we hadn't been doing.
"That run in the third quarter really gave us the comfortable feeling we hadn't had, and we needed it. We've got four seniors and three juniors and those are the only girls who got on the floor for us tonight. No doubt, that experience really showed when we needed it."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.