When she was in the fourth grade, Marie Carpenter’s grandmother told her that she had long legs and she should be playing a sport like basketball.
“She paid the YMCA entry fee, and I was on my way,’’ said Carpenter who has led top-ranked Ensworth High (23-4) into its fourth straight DII girls state tournament, which opens this week.
As March Madness officially arrives Monday, Carpenter and the Tigers are very much a part of it as they will play St. Benedict Friday afternoon in the state semifinals Friday at Allen Arena, two steps from a second title.
She poured in a game-high 30 points in a 57-44 sectional win over Chattanooga GPS last Friday, 17 in the first half when she hit three threes and wound up with four.
Heeding her grandmother’s advice, Carpenter became a starter as the only girls player on an otherwise all-boys team and she more than held her own with her all-out, relentless style of play.
This Carpenter has built a reputation as one of the top players in the state, having been named as a Miss Basketball finalist for the second straight year. She has signed with Eastern Kentucky.
“It was great winning state as a sophomore, we beat Knox Webb and (Miss Basketball winner) Glory Johnson, an outstanding player,’’ said the 5-7guard, who was a starter on that ’08 Tigers’ 27-4 championship team, coached by David Pack. “I hope our team can have that same feeling next week.’’
As a junior, the Tigers lost in the finals, also to Webb, in Coach Hubie Smith’s first year to wind up 23-6.
“Marie has had a great last month of basketball, scoring, assists, rebounds, everything,’’ Smith said. “This (sectionals) was her 7th straight game of 20 points or more.
“I was only averaging about eight points a game in the first part of the season, and I knew I had to pick my game up if we were going to be successful as a team,’’ she said.
“We had a lot of stumbles with injuries and what not early on,’’ said Smith whose team has won 20 of its last 21 games. “Lately, we have rounded into form. We had been off for 10 days prior to our game with GPS, and it sure looked like it. GPS is very athletic and gave us a lot of problems.’’
Things weren’t always entirely rosy. Early on there were coach/player disagreements, and Smith threw Carpenter out of a practice her junior year.
“Coach Smith is a very smart coach, and I’m glad I had the chance to play for him, he has taught me a lot about life, and he has helped make me an even better player,’’ she said.
She showed that last Friday in arguably her best game of the season. She dished out an assist to Brandi Byner for a 43-34 lead, then her fourth trey with 1:36 left sealed the deal.
After a scoreless first half, dependable senior Jamie Allsmiller rifled in a pair of threes, with her second giving the Tigers a 52-38 lead.
“Since January, Maria has really stepped up for us,’’ Smith said. “We’ll need her to keep it going in state. We have to play better than we did against GPS.’’
About heading to Eastern Kentucky, she said, “I felt like signing with a lower tier DI program, I could move in and play right away rather than having to ride bench my first two years.’’
As for state, she said, “it will be tough with some great competition, but with God’s help and with everyone pulling as a team, we’ll be successful,’’ Carpenter said.
DCA grabs first state tourney berth
Like Ensworth, Donelson Christian Academy is headed to the big dance, as the Wildcats are making the school’s first girls state tournament appearance. The Cats (20-9) beat USJ 52-45 in DII-A sectionals Friday, led by Kendall Hooper’s 16.
“We’re very excited to be the first team for our school to go,’’ said Coach Brett Schierling. “We got off to a rough start at 3-4 due to illness and injuries, but since mid-January, we have really come on. We had a big win over FRA in region, which enabled us to get a home game for sectionals.
“Kendall has played extremely well for us, she averaging about 16 points and eight rebounds – as a point guard,’’ Schierling said.
DCA will join FRA to give the Nashville area two of the DII-A semifinalists. “I’m happy for them, we all kind of pull for each other,’’ he said.
Overton gains semis with win over old rival
Overton outlasted old rival Hillsboro 69-58 Saturday to gain a berth in the Region 6-AAA semifinals Tuesday when the Bobcats (28-3) will play host McGavock which pulled off a stunning 62-61 win at Franklin.
“This was like an uncomfortable visit to the dentist,’’ said Coach James McKee of the very physical and chippy game. “We’re facing a really tough one with McGavock on their home floor.’’
“The whole week, we heard all the buzz (about the game with Hillsboro),’’ said point guard Mookie Betts who again led Overton with 24 points including three threes. “They came at us pretty hard.’’
“We kept our poise,’’ said Bobcat center Desmond Johnson. “Coach (McKee) prepared us well and we were ready.’’
Hillsboro center Arthur McMillan returned from a two-game suspension and wound up an excellent Burro career with a game-high 27 points, which included two eye-opening slam dunks for the Burros who ended 14-12.