Pelham’s Briunna Freeman, right, has her shot blocked by Taylor’s Artisha Holston. (Shine Rankin/South Georgia Sports Network)
MILLEDGEVILLE — Pelham’s girls knew they would have to climb a mountain to get to the Final Four. They just didn’t realize there would be two of them.
That’s what it looked like and felt like for the Lady Hornets on Friday as they spent the afternoon looking up at a Taylor County team that didn’t have one, but two 6-foot towers.
That’s how it ended for Pelham’s Lady Hornets, who fell behind 13-0 and never recovered in a 50-33 loss to Taylor on Friday in the Class A Elite 8 round of the state playoffs at Georgia College and State University.
Pelham raced into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1997 and then simply hit a wall against Taylor County, which came into the game angry because of things that were being said on “The Vent” — an Internet site where anyone who knows how to turn on a computer and type on a keyboard can sound off on high school sports.
“We were worried about them. Our girls read The Vent,’’ Taylor County coach Matt Troutman said. “And there was a lot of talking on there from Pelham and how they were going to beat us like a drum. Our girls didn’t like that. In this day, you have to watch what you say about basketball.’’
That might have been one reason Taylor’s Artisha Holston, a 6-foot senior, had the game of her life. Holston scored just 11 points but dominated the game and the boards along with fellow 6-foot post Brittany Troutman, who scored eight points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Holston, whose career-high in rebounds had been 18, finished the game with 28 rebounds and made life miserable for the Lady Hornets, who were short one player on the inside on a day when they could have used three or four extra hands to get a rebound.
Timbreanna Hudson, a 6-foot freshman, is coming back from a knee injury and didn’t play.
“She had been playing, but she tweaked her knee in the last game, and I decided not to play her. I didn’t want to risk getting her hurt,’’ Pelham coach Antonia Tookes said. “We were short a player, and they had two 6-footers. Those bigs controlled the tempo.’’
Pelham couldn’t find the basket early, and Holston and Troutman combined to grab 12 rebounds in the first quarter to set the tone for the game.
“We couldn’t buy a basket, and we couldn’t get a rebound,’’ Tookes said. “Even when we would box out, (Holston) would get the rebound.’’
Pelham scored 60 points in just three quarters in beating Greenville, 60-24 on Tuesday, but opened Friday’s game ice cold. The Lady Hornets missed their first 12 shots from the floor and trailed, 13-0, before Octavia Kierce finally made a pair of free throws with 1:04 left to get Pelham on the board. Herald Super 6er Shay Reese then hit a drive to close out the first quarter at 13-4, but that’s as close as Pelham got to the Lady Vikings all day.
Kierce hit a drive to make it an 18-6 game in the second, but Taylor ripped off a 10-point run to go up 28-6 with 3:05 left in the half.
Pelham made some runs, thanks to Reese, who hit four 3s and finished with 15 points. Kierce finished with 11 points as the two seniors kept Pelham in the game, but the Lady Hornets, who were down, 32-17, at halftime, could never get any closer than 13 points in the second half.
“Shay played the game of her life,” Tookes said. “I’m so proud of both my seniors.”
Pelham freshman Briunna Freeman, who has had an incredible season and has led the Lady Hornets in many games this year, ran into foul trouble early and played the second half with four fouls before finally fouling out with 2:29 left. She had a long day on the court and went 1-for-16 from the floor. She finished with four points.
“It seemed like there was a lid on the basket. She had shots go in and out,’’ Tookes said, spinning her finger. “But she played the whole second half with four fouls and she played hard.’’
Taylor is 26-1 and riding a 19-game winning streak into the Final Four. The Lady Vikings have won five state titles — all under Troutman. And they might be on their way to No. 6.
“This team is as talented as the other five, and they work as hard,’’ Troutman said. “The difference is this year we are better in the post.’’
Nobody knows that better than Pelham, which ends its season at 26-5. Tookes has now won 48 games since taking over the program a year ago, and she believes there’s a lot more to come.
“We never gave up. We kept battling,’’ she said after the loss. “There’s no quit in Pelham as long as I am here. We’ll be back.’’