Freshman point guard Molly Massingale may be in her first postseason tournament run as a high school basketball player, but the McMinn Central standout is well equipped for the big stage.
Massingale jolted the Chargerettes as her sweet left-handed shot and passes to open teammates helped spark a commanding 22-0 run in the first half that helped lead to a 65-44 road victory over Brainerd in Monday's Region 3-AA semifinal.
"Molly is a player. This is not too big for her," legendary McMinn Central coach Johnny Morgan said of the first-year star who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
"She has played AAU and been in so many big moments before. She fits in with what we like to do. When it's crunch time she is going to grit her teeth and bow her back. She sees the court well and is a very unselfish player just like all of our girls."
Speedy guard Kellan Baker broke away for a game-high 23 points for McMinn Central (23-8), who will play Meigs County (19-4) on the road for the region championship Wednesday at 7 p.m.
For Brainerd, a season surpassing expectations came to a close but not without a final push.
The Lady Panthers (18-5) fought resiliently with 28 points in the fourth quarter — of which 19 came from the hot-hand of senior Raijeria Bell who led the way with 21 points and four 3-pointers. Fellow senior Arteya Scott also finished with 13 points and two blocked shots.
"All year long we have had a resilient team. You may knock us down, but we won't give up," Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson said. "Just like in life you are going to take some losses, but everyone around you expects you to keep living and pushing on.
"Our girls came together collectively and played hard together and for one another this year. We can get back here. Our focus is to keep producing good players and students who will make this happen again for years to come."
Brainerd won the District 6-AA tournament championship in comeback fashion, and the program enjoyed its best season on the hardwood since going 18-7 back in the 2013-14 campaign.
"We just ran up against a well-coached Johnny Morgan team that shot the ball well, was scrappy and a fundamentally sound team," Jackson added. "McMinn Central's tradition really stands out. We are trying to get back to where we use to be and this season was a good start."
Region 3-AAA semifinal
Bradley Central 50, Cookeville 49: Anna Muhonen made one of two free throw attempts with four seconds remaining in overtime to help the top-ranked Bearettes survive the Region 3-AAA semifinal game. Bradley Central (25-1) advances to Wednesday's region championship, where it will face Stone Memorial.
The region champion will host a state sectional game on Saturday while the runner-up must travel.
After trailing Cookeville by eight at halftime, a 13-3 third-quarter run helped Bradley Central take the lead. However it was Muhonen's free throw with 2:11 remaining in regulation that forced overtime — but only after both teams failed to score the remainder of the fourth quarter.
Muhonen led Bradley with 14 points and Hannah Jones added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Region 3-AA semifinal
Meigs County 47, Polk County 23
Region 3-A semifinal
Clarkrange 62, Whitwell 42
Sonoraville girls set for defensive struggle
If Sonoraville is to reach its second Class AAA girls' semifinal in three years it will have to solve one of the stingiest defenses in the state.
Cross Creek (21-2) visits east Calhoun Tuesday allowing a miniscule 32.4 points per game. No team has scored more than 47 points on the Region 6 champion Razorbacks this season, presenting a deep challenge for the Lady Phoenix (23-4).
One edge Sonoraville may have, according to coach Stephanie Caudell, is the team's ability to shoot from long range.
"If we're on, we usually will shoot it better than they do," said Caudell, whose team allows only 47 points per contest. "I think it's going to come down to rebounding and limiting their opportunities to score. We have to limit turnovers and transition baskets. They're a solid defensive team with decent size and length all over."
Sonoraville's attack is led by a four-guard lineup featuring senior Alexa Geary, who averages 19 points and eight rebounds. She's made 56 3-pointers, second on the team to fellow senior Abby Chambers, who has 72, with Lindsey Bowman totaling 51 treys.
On the other side, leading scorer Jordyn Dorsey (22 points per game) paces the Razorbacks with 37 3-pointers, though most of her damage is done in the paint.