Pelham’s Briunna Freeman (12) flies to the rim ahead of the Mitchell County defense Friday night during the Lady Hornets’ win against their rivals. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
PELHAM — Antonia Tookes couldn’t stop watching the game film from last year’s Region 1-A championship game, where her Pelham Lady Hornets lost a heartbreaker to rival Mitchell County.
She relived the emotional loss over and over Thursday night.
“I stayed up till 3 in the morning and watched it three times all the way through (Thursday) night,” Tookes said.
The game film of Friday night’s rematch won’t be nearly as painful to watch for Pelham’s third-year coach.
Behind sophomore Briunna Freeman’s season-high 27 points, The Herald No. 5 Lady Hornets outscored No. 4 Mitchell, 20-9, in the final 10 minutes to pull away for a 51-44 victory.
Freeman hit one clutch shot after another down the stretch, helping the Lady Hornets (2-0) overcome a four-point deficit late in the third quarter in front of a capacity crowd in Pelham’s 700-seat gym.
“I knew we had it,” said Freeman, who also had seven rebounds. “I didn’t lose faith at all. I know my teammates are going to go out there and fight and go to war for me.”
Tookes knew it would be a battle, too.
“I didn’t even graduate from here, but this is a rivalry for me,” Tookes said. “I circled the game on the schedule. I told my girls that we owe them. And we gave it to them (Friday.”
Tookes then added: “They deserved to be beat (Friday). We pretty much gave them a region title last year. We didn’t play well (in the region championship game), and they deserved to beat us because that’s the way we played.”
Pelham didn’t look like a team backing down from a fight Friday, especially not Freeman, who scored at least six points in every quarter and did her job on the defensive end against Mitchell star post player A’Miracle Jones, who finished 4-for-20 from the floor with 13 points and 15 rebounds.
“She stepped up in crucial moments, and I told her it was her time (Friday night),” Tookes said about Freeman. “She took the ball and just ran with it.”
And nobody was catching Freeman, who couldn’t stop thinking about the region championship rematch either.
“I’m not going to say I stayed up till 3,” Freeman said with a grin as she glanced at her coach, “but I was up.”
She is now 3-1 against Mitchell County in her short career but 3-0 against the Lady Eagles when she scores 20 or more points. All she cared about Friday was getting the win.
“Those 27 points mean nothing to me,” she said. “That W is all I care about. My team is all I care about, and I couldn’t have gotten those 27 points without my teammates.”
Pelham post player Timbreana Hudson finished with nine points and 14 rebounds and also did her part to slow down Jones in the paint, while Lady Hornets point guard Hillary Williams added eight points.
Pelham’s entire starting five except for Freeman got into early foul trouble, and Mitchell took advantage, outscoring the Lady Hornets 17-12 in the second quarter and taking a 24-23 lead into halftime.
Mitchell (5-2) held onto its lead for much of the third quarter and stretched it to as many as six points, but Pelham reclaimed the lead with a 15-0 run that spanned nearly five minutes.
And as Pelham’s lead got larger, the crowd only got louder.
“They let the crowd get into their heads,” Mitchell assistant coach Wendy Whitlock said about her players. “Pelham went up, and they just kind of shut down on me.”
The Lady Hornets were 3-for-23 in the second half, and the only player to score more than three points after halftime was Ja’shara Burns, who finished the night with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Jones was 0-for-8 from the field in the second half and scored just three points.
“I don’t know what her problem was tonight,” Whitlock said about Jones. “She was a little off, but (Burns) picked up her game. She was driving and getting to the free throw line. If A’Miracle would have kept her game up and Ja’shara did what she did, then we would have been unbeatable.”
Pelham plays again today at home against Seminole County, while Mitchell is in action today at Terrell County.
MITCHELL BOYS 62, PELHAM 47: Jermaine Hartsfield scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter to lead The Herald No. 5 Eagles to their fifth win in a row.
Pelham (0-2) led by two points at the end of the first quarter and was within two at halftime, but the Eagles (6-1) outscored the Hornets 18-5 in the third quarter and never looked back.
Bruce Bryant and Daron Hodges each added 10 points for the Eagles, while Joquil Chester added nine. Mitchell has now won five in a row by double figures since narrowly losing to Herald No. 3 Randolph-Clay on Dec. 1.
The Hornets were led by Jaquan Green and Shaquille Crimley, who scored 12 and six points, respectively.