MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — McMinn Central junior Molly Masingale's biggest impact Friday at the BlueCross Basketball Championships came on the defensive end and in the most crucial part of the game.
With the Chargerettes trailing Gibson County 43-38 with 4:46 to play in their TSSAA Class 2A semifinal, Masingale ignited her team with a demoralizing shot block. Over the next 2:08 of game clock, Masingale picked apart the Lady Cavaliers' attack with four steals, diving to the floor for two of those.
The standout defense of Masingale, who has committed to Wofford, helped McMinn Central score 11 straight points as part of a 16-1 run that sealed a 58-50 victory at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center, setting up the Chargerettes' first state final since 2015 and their fifth overall. They'll try to add a second title to the one they earned in 2011.
Masingale finished with 12 points — she was 9-of-12 on free throws, improving to 44-of-40 this postseason — 10 rebounds, five steals and a block for the Chargerettes (28-7).
"This means so much to our community," Masingale said. "They have helped us through this whole process and willed us on. They helped us fund this trip. Not only are we playing for ourselves, but our community and little girls that look up to us just like we did several years ago."
The Chargerettes' journey to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. Eastern showdown against Westview (32-1) — a 43-27 winner over Community in Friday's second semifinal — would not have been possible without the heroics of sophomore Karina Bystry.
Bystry tied her career high with 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and missed just one of her eight free throws. She matched her number from a 62-60 loss to Christian Academy of Knoxville earlier this season.
"Karina didn't score those 27 points for herself but for the visiting team on the scoreboard," said Chargerettes coach Johnny Morgan, who is in his 45th season. "She is always trying to help McMinn Central be as successful as possible. When we lost to CAK by two earlier this year, she was the most distraught of the girls in the postgame locker room because she wants to win so bad for this team."
Bystry scored 19 second-half points and hit her fourth and final 3 off a screen set by Masingale on the top left wing to pull within 39-38 with 6:50 to play. She has now scored 161 points in eight postseason wins for the Chargerettes, while Masingale has 170 points over the playoff run to the title game.
"We received cards from some our young fans at home that said: Win state ... please," Bystry said. "My points weren't the reason we won tonight, it was our team effort as a whole. I am glad my points were a turning point, but I couldn't have done it without my teammates getting me in great spots to shoot."
Sophomore guard Reagan Baker started the 11-0 spurt in the fourth with a strong drive down the left side of the lane that resulted in a three-point play. She also closed the game-changing run by making a pair of free throw for a 49-43 lead with 2:38 on the clock.
McMinn Central shot 20-of-25 from the foul line a day after going 26-of-32 in a quarterfinal win against Gatlinburg-Pittman. The Chargerettes have made 73% of their free throws this season.
Gibson County (28-9) was led by Evyn Cantrell's 23 points.
The Chargerettes had runner-up finishes in 1997, 2004 and 2010 before breaking through in 2011, when a McMinn Central team led by Jenna Adams and Elizabeth Masengil beat Macon County 48-37 to finish 35-1. The 2015 final was a 58-51 loss to Martin Luther King, which rallied from a 11-point first-half deficit to win.
"The next game is just as important as any other," said Morgan, whose 1,043 coaching wins are second all-time in the greater Chattanooga area behind Jim Smiddy's 1,217 for the Bradley Central Bearettes. "As long as they stay hungry, you've got a good chance. These girls really want to do something special for their community."
Some may find it only fitting McMinn Central and Bradley Central will play for gold ball trophies on the same day. The Chargerettes are the only team this season to have beaten Coach Jason Reuter's Bearettes, who will face Bartlett in the 4A title game at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.