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February 19, 2014

Lady Bulldogs look to stay alive in playoffs

EMPIRE — The Empire girls advanced beyond the district portion of the state playoffs, but now face a sudden death scenario as they enter the regional consolation bracket Thursday.

The Lady Bulldogs’ (10-10) first test will come against Bowlegs (10-12) at 1:30 p.m. in Blanchard. Bowlegs defeated Strother 55-36 in the first round of districts, but lost 47-35 to No. 10 Mason in the district final to wind up in the same situation as Empire. It’s win or go home for both teams and Empire coach Jason Allensworth says that takes a different mindset.

“We just want to have great practices this week,” Allensworth said. “You have to take it one game at a time, and be mentally prepared.”

That’s because if the Bulldogs win, they will return to Blanchard to take on the loser of No. 8 Turner and Cyril at 6:30 p.m. Friday night. If they win that matchup, a spot in the area tournament will be on the line versus one of four teams — Paoli, Ryan, Mason or No. 11 Chattanooga — at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Three wins in three days will be no easy task, but Empire will start the week prepared to face Bowlegs as Allensworth has done his research on the opponent. His biggest concern is the size of Bowlegs and how it uses its two main forwards to break up the defense.

Keeping that from happening will mostly fall on the shoulders of senior Jessica Carney. She has been a consistent lockdown defender for Empire and that role becomes even more important Thursday afternoon.

“She’s going to be big in this game,” Allensworth said. “Her post defense and rebounding is going to be a key part of our win.”

Carney said it starts with rebounding. That’s her main goal. She hopes she can get as many as possible to take the pressure off her perimeter defense and keep Bowlegs from getting a lot of shots.

On the offensive end, the Bulldogs have been rebounding well. There has been an increased effort from all the players on the floor, and Carney can see how it’s improved the team.

“It’s because we work hard, and we’re trying to get second chances,” Carney said.

Empire’s last game was a 73-33 road loss to Chattanooga last Saturday in the district final to put it in the consolation regional bracket.

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