Hardin County girls basketball enjoys underdog role as Lady Tigers reach AAA semifinals

Michael Odom
Jackson Sun

MURFREESBORO — At no point during the 2020-21 season was Hardin County girls basketball ranked in the Tennessee Associated Press Class AAA poll.

Heck, the Lady Tigers were never even listed as receiving votes.

MOVING IN: Hardin County's Skyler Gill dominated defensively early in high school career

ADDING OFFENSE: Hardin County's Skyler Gill adds offense to good defense

But that does not bother Skyler Gill and her Hardin County teammates because for the first time since 1988, the Lady Tigers are in the state semifinals.

The Lady Tigers knocked off No. 2-ranked Bearden 48-39 in the Class AAA quarterfinals on Thursday.

"We were underrated," Gill said. "We weren't predicted to win district, we won region, we won sectional and now we knocked off one of the top teams in the state."

Hardin County coach Ron Burnham said that the difference this year started with going to the movies.

"They do things the night before games like going to the movies or going out to eat, and they started bonding," Burnham said. "About the fifth game, they started to believe in the coach. They become more of a team than individuals."

In recent history, West Tennessee has been dominated on the Class AAA level by schools in Shelby County. Last season the Lady Tigers were eliminated in the sectionals by Whitehaven 66-18.

This year, things changed. Hardin County broke through as a big unknown going into the state tournament.

Bearden coach Justin Underwood said after the game he knew of Gill and her shot-blocking ability from her state-record 15 block performance. Gill dominated with six blocks and 15 rebounds — 13 on the defensive end.

"I knew coming up here under the big lights that shooting was going to be tough," Gill said. "I felt my defense was good tonight, and I made sure my teammates got the shots that we needed. If it wasn't me shooting the ball, I was fine with that as long as we won."

Hardin County played like it had all season, slowing the game down with a strong defensive effort.

"We had a lot of film on them," Hardin County coach Ron Burnham said. "We knew that when (Zneyah McLaughlin) got the ball on the rebound, it was coast to coast. We tried to make them do more of a half-court offense and get two and three players back."

The scoring came from sophomore Reese Harville and senior Kimme Callahan with three 3-pointers each to finish with 14 and 13 points, respectively.

"I dreamed of getting here since the fifth grade," Callahan said. "Last year, losing at Whitehaven (upset us), and we have worked so hard this year to get to this point. All the hard work and staying 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour after practice, it really helped me and my teammates."

"We are a small town," Gill said. "We can't bring in other people like the big cities can. We are Savannah made, plus me."

Gill moved to Savannah from Wichita, Kansas, prior to her freshman year.

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Reach Michael Odom at michodom@jacksonsun.com or 731-425-9754. Follow him on Twitter @JSWriterMichael.