Despite another slow start, the Southeast Lauderdale Lady Tigers won their third straight game in blowout fashion, punching their ticket to the MHSAA Class 3A Girls State Tournament for the sixth year in a row.

The Lady Tigers, who have won three state titles and finished state runner-up once since 2001, led by 10 at halftime before exploding in the second half for a 73-32 win against 2007 state champion South Pike.

“I was a little worried about the first half, because we just didn’t start well,” said SEL coach Joe Miller. “I told them at halftime that we needed to take over the third quarter. My hat’s off to my bunch, we absolutely took over the third quarter.”

The Lady Tigers (29-2) scored the first 12 points of the period and didn’t allow South Pike to score until the 3:04 mark of the quarter.

Pashen Thompson, who had a game-high 23 points, scored six points in the run. She finished the night with a double-double, pulling down 11 boards.

Midway through the third quarter, as the Lady Eagles were still looking for their first points of the half, Brianna Newell took a charge as Kierra Addison was driving the lane on a fast break. The foul was the fourth on Addison, who was taken out of the game and failed to score in the second half.

“That was a crucial play,” Miller said of the charge. “Addison was their best player. (Newell) isn’t going to score a lot, but she makes our defense play hard.”

Addison paced South Pike (26-5) with 11 points. Nine of her points came in the first quarter, when the Lady Eagles were able to build a three-point lead before Southeast ripped off seven straight points.

South Pike managed to tie the game one more time in the second quarter, but a 14-2 spurt by the Lady Tigers put SEL on top for good.

The run was started by April Durden, who converted a three-point play. Durden also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Brittany Roberts, who ended the night with 20 points, had two baskets and a free throw in the stretch, while Thompson scored the other six points.

“When April, Pashen and Brittany have good games, we’re usually going to have a good game,” Miller said. “I think the person that gets lost in the shuffle is Keyosha Robinson. She is so unselfish and does a good job of finding the open person.”

Robinson ended up with seven points.

Southeast, which won its last three games by an average of 38 points, was again able to rest its starters at the end of the game as the Lady Tigers are now just three wins away from winning their third state crown in four years.

SEL will face Raymond, which beat Pass Christian 54-43 Friday on the strength of 29 points from Valencia McFarland, for the Class 3A South State championship tonight at 8:30 p.m. And although win or lose, the Lady Tigers’ season will continue, the group will be playing with a lot of pride as Southeast looks to close out its second straight season without losing a game on its home court.

Winning the south state championship and becoming the No. 1 seed from the South at “The Big House” does come with what some believe is a disadvantage, but Miller says he will welcome the 10-day layoff between games if Southeast wins tonight.

“We’re going to do our best to be Number 1,” Miller said. “But it’s so comforting to know that we already have our ticket punched.”

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