Lady Fighting Tigers believed throughout tournament run
Depending on which story you were reading, it was either a fairytale or dream season.
A couple of lackluster losses to end the regular season planted seeds of doubt, but not in the minds of the Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers.
This was the postseason tournament. It was the second season. It was a new season. The slate was clean. And the Lady Tigers were more than ready for their second chance.
They rolled to the regional tournament and then surprised favored Sugarcreek Garaway 31-24. Ironton’s aggressive, physical defense was impressive for the fourth straight game, but many expected the fairytale to end. Up next were the unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Oak Hill Lady Oaks, a team that was state runners-up the previous year with virtually their entire team in tact.
But in a major shocker, Ironton beat Oak Hill 43-31 as the defense shined again. The win gave Ironton the regional title and its third state tournament berth.
Still, there were doubters. Waiting at the Schottenstein Center was unbeaten Madison. That’s unbeaten as in 26-0. Ironton was 17-7. This would certainly be a blowout.
But coach Doug Graham and the Lady Tigers didn’t pay any attention to the nay-sayers.
“I didn’t feel (Madison) would come in here and beat us by 20 or 30. With the confidence we had coming in I knew we could play with anybody and we did,” said Graham.
Ironton fell behind 9-0 to start the game. They were obviously nervous. Once they settled in, they played right with — and often outplayed — the much ballyhooed Mohawks.
Ironton struggled from the field. An average shooting day would have been more than enough. They played hard. They played well enough to win. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Still, they did earn a lot of respect along the way.
“We play for (district and regional championship) stickers and (state tournament) banners and we certainly put stickers on the wall and a banner in the ceiling,” said Graham.
Senior guard Brea Tackett was disappointed in the loss, but she was pleased at how the team came together through the course of the season and achieved some key goals.
“I couldn’t ask for a better season. In the summer I didn’t see us getting here, but it’s been awesome. I’m happy with the season and I’m glad we beat Oak Hill,” said Tackett.
Senior forward Lorna Ceasar said the team didn’t lack confidence in their ability even if others did.
“There were a lot of people who supported us, but I don’t know how many really believed in us,” said Ceaser. “The girls on the team from the starters to the girls on the bench — we all believed. We were going to fight all the way. We are the Fighting Tigers.”
Graham said Tackett, Ceaser and the other two seniors — Janie Morris and Emily Lilly — were they keys to the team’s never-say-die attitude.
“It’s truly been a pleasure to coach these young ladies,” said Graham. “I can’t say enough about how much they have sacrificed. The seniors were always there.
“I told the team after the game the seniors are going to be a tough group to replace. All the screaming and hollering I put them through and they put up with me for four years. I told all the freshmen and sophomores and juniors they have big shoes to fill.”
And their own story to write.
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.