Trombley, defense lead Pigeon Forge into region semifinals
Everything Pigeon Forge coach Paul Reagan and his coaching staff had done in recent weeks was to prepare their girls basketball team for moments like these.
Region 2-AA Tournament, on the road at Alcoa and the homestanding Tornadoes threatening to rally.
Pigeon Forge never blinked. And now the Tigers are roaring into the second round of the region tournament for the fifth time in Reagan's six years courtesy of a 46-35 win against the Tornadoes (15-16). Pigeon Forge (18-8) will get another crack at Fulton, this time in an win-or-go-home affair, back at Alcoa on Monday.
“Well, we've been testing them. Testing them ever since Fulton beat us a couple weeks ago,” said Reagan, his girls a state tournament participant two years ago and five-time regional semifinalist. “I told (Fulton coach John) Fisher, he's a good friend of mine, and I said, 'Buddy, I hate losing but we got better because we lost.' They took us to the woodshed twice, but I think we got better. A lot of times you don't get better after a win; you get better after a loss. Hopefully we'll show that Monday night.”
The Tigers showed plenty on this night; their defensive dominance was the catalyst in the win along with a game-high 20 points from senior post Mikayla Trombley. The Lady Tigers held Alcoa without a point during a nearly five-minute stretch in the opening frame. They denied their hosts a single field goal for more than the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
“It was very big,” said Trombley of her team's defensive intensity. “We knew they could shoot. I think that's what Alcoa is known for, shooting outside. All their girls really can shoot. At first we didn't get out on shooters good enough. Fortunately they didn't make very many from the outside. But I think we got better as the game went along getting out on shooters.”
After Alcoa pulled within 22-17 in the early moments of the third, the Lady Tigers responded with suffocating defense and balanced scoring. Trombley converted an and-1 bucket while five different Pigeon Forge players scored in the frame. The Lady Tigers utilized a 15-5 run during the quarter, including back-to-back triples, to forge ahead 40-23.
Trombley said the proud Tigers entered the contest with a determined mindset.
“I think we all came into this game … we did not want it to be our last game,” said Trombley, who will visit Berea College (Ky.) this weekend and also has visited Maryville College. “We were so determined to win. I know we had a lot of people, from our record this year, I don't think anyone expected us to come out and win like this. So it felt really good.”
Trombley opened fourth-quarter scoring with four straight free throws, and Alcoa didn't score its first points in the frame until just three minutes remained. By then, the deficit was an insurmountable 44-26 and the Lady Tigers just had to hold on till the end.
“It's unbelievable how we can play such good defense on a great shooting team,” Reagan said. “And they had an off night, but give us some credit for that for putting hands in faces and putting a little pressure on them when they weren't ready for it. Really proud of our girls, worked the game plan perfectly.”
Pigeon Forge, which led 12-5 after one and by as many as 12, 20-8, in the second, took a 22-15 edge into the halftime intermission. Trombley helped build that lead with 11 in the opening 16 minutes, but Alyssa Mitchell also delivered five first-quarter points to help balance the attack. Rebecca Baker finished with a steady eight-point performance.
“Extremely pleased and satisfied,” Reagan said. “We didn't end it the way we wanted to end it, but our girls came to play tonight. They were aggressive offensive and defensively and rebounding. We're not a great rebounding team, but we knew we had to at least rebound with them. I thought the girls did a great job on the board.
“Mikayla Trombley is a heck of a player. She's not signed yet, but there's a lot of schools looking at her. There should be a lot more looking at her. We've got good guards. Our weakness is rebounding. Playing Fulton Monday night and Fulton has killed us on the boards the last two times we've played. We've got to compete to rebound. I don't expect us to win the rebounding battle but to at least compete.”