Pelham teammates, from left, Raniesha Florence, Briunna Freeman and Kayla Smith celebrate after winning Tuesday in the Sweet 16. (email@example.com)
PELHAM — Turn Up!
That’s what the kids say at Pelham and, yes, they say it with an exclamation point.
Everything about Pelham ended with an exclamation point Tuesday — everything.
“Turn up!” shouted Briunna Freeman. “That’s what we say!’’
And what they do.
Just ask Greenville, which was on the wrong end of a 60-24 Pelham party on Tuesday night in the Pelham gym, where the Lady Hornets romped in the Sweet 16 round of the Class A state playoffs and advanced to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1997.
The way they played, it was almost worth the wait.
Pelham now faces Taylor County at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
“They wanted to go to Milledgeville,’’ Pelham coach Antonio Tookes said.
Tookes then added: “They told me before the game they deserved to go to Milledgeville.’’
Blame Octavia Kierce, the kid they call K-K. She came up with the “Turn Up” slogan for the team, and she was the voice in the locker room telling Tookes Pelham deserved a trip to the Elite 8.
“We deserve it because we work so hard,’’ said Kierce, who hit the court running and worked all night, turning the Turn Up slogan into a walking, talking metaphor.
After all, it was her catch phrase and slogan for the team.
“I came up with it about eight games ago,’’ she said. “It just means, Turn Up, get it going. We say it in the locker room, in the huddle. It gets us going.’’
Turn Up, indeed. The Lady Hornets will fly into Milledgeville after this kind of win.
Kierce finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots and also came up with five of Pelham’s 18 steals.
But she wasn’t alone.
Pelham’s three-headed monster of Kierce, Freeman and Shay Reese combined to score 58 points in three quarters. Just call them Pelham’s Big 3.
Freeman, a sensational freshman who can run the floor and also kill teams inside, dropped in 19 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and made six steals. She made 9-of-12 shots from the field, and at times looked unstoppable.
One of the most impressive things about the night was the way Kierce and Freeman dished off slick passes inside to each other, sharing the ball, and the ride together.
Then there was Reese, who hit back-to-back 3s to get the Pelham gym rocking in the first quarter. She scored 10 of Pelham’s 20 first-quarter points, and then hit back-to-back 3s in the third to finish with 18 points. She went 4-of-6 from behind the arc as the threesome shot the lights out Tuesday.
“I felt it,’’ Reese said of her 3s. “I felt it when I shot the first one.’’
And after the win?
“I feel awesome,’’ she said. “It feels great. I’m just ready for the next game.’’
The threesome combined to go 24-of-35 from the field (68.6 percent) in three quarters. Because of the rout, the final quarter was only six minutes, and Pelham didn’t score a point in the fourth. It didn’t matter. The Lady Hornets, who led, 32-16, at halftime and 60-19 after three quarters, won the game on the defensive end of the court.
Greenville’s Kiyanna Johnson, who led the Lady Patriots with seven points, hit a 3 to open the third quarter, and Greenville didn’t score again until there was 2:56 left in the game.
“We played defense, and defense wins championships,’’ Tookes said. “We got a lot of transition points off turnovers. We had 18 steals and made the most of them.’’
They also stopped Greenville’s Mykeishia Darden, who scored 37 points in Greenville’s opening-round, 66-64 upset against Calvary Day, the No. 3-ranked team in the state that went to the Final Four last year.
“She was not going to get 37 points on us,’’ said Freeman with a sense of pride. “We knew about her. Our coaches had us ready to play this game.’’
Then Kierce held up four fingers.
“That’s what she got,’’ she said with a wisp of a smile. “She scored four points on us.’’
Darden ran into foul trouble early and never got on track.
“When she got into foul trouble, that took us out of our game plan,’’ Greenville coach Waqueisha Tenney said. But Tenney made no excuses and praised Pelham.
“I think they’re going to the Final Four,’’ she said. “And when they get to the Final Four, they will play (defending state champ and No. 1-ranked) Wesleyan, and they will give them a game. They’ll be OK against Wesleyan. They’re more athletic than Wesleyan, but Wesleyan is more disciplined.’’
Pelham (26-4) is ranked No. 10 in the state poll, but was upset in the Region 1-A title game by county rival Mitchell County, which plays Claxton tonight in the Sweet 16.
“That loss to Mitchell County is behind us,’’ Freeman said. “It’s not over yet. We’re going to the 8!’’