Pelham’s Briunna Freeman led a big comeback Thursday night. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
PELHAM — Antonia Tookes didn’t raise her voice once during halftime of Thursday’s Region 1-AA region semifinal game against Cook.
No yelling. No screaming.
Just a heartfelt question from the Pelham girls basketball coach, spoken to her Lady Hornets in little more than a whisper.
“I just asked them where their heart was,” Tookes said. “That’s it. I just said, ‘Where’s your heart?’ ”
Somewhere between the locker room and the court, they found it.
The Herald No. 3 Lady Hornets erased a seven-point halftime deficit in less than four minutes and then pulled away from Cook for a 54-45 win.
“I knew at halftime that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Herald Super 6er Briunna Freeman said. “We got out there in the second half and hustled. I would look over at coach in the second half and just see her pounding her chest, saying, ‘You have to have heart.’ ”
Freeman scored 14 of her game-high 23 points in the third quarter, rebounding from a first half when she scored just eight and looked very un-Freeman-like.
She only scored one point in the fourth quarter, but point guard Hilary Williams picked up the slack, scoring five of her 20 points and leading the Lady Hornets into tonight’s championship game against Thomasville, which split the regular-season region title with Pelham with identical 11-1 records.
That’s because Thomasville and Pelham split their regular season series, and each game was decided by one point. Tookes, whose team improved to 23-3 after Thursday’s victory, expects tonight’s game to be just as dramatic.
“We have to be ready to play (tonight), because they are going to bring everything they have,” Tookes said. “They want this region championship, too. Both of us want it, and there is only one trophy. I expect it to be an awesome game.”
Thomasville was one of just three teams to beat Pelham this season, and the Lady Bulldogs cruised to a semifinal win Thursday against Early County.
Freeman said she wasn’t looking past an underwhelming Cook County team — which is now 11-13 overall and entered the region tournament with four straight losses — but Pelham’s star guard is now fully focused on Thomasville.
“(Tonight’s) game isn’t going to be easy,” Freeman said. “It’s going to close, and like coach said, whoever has the most heart is going to win.”
Tookes said that no one had more heart in Thursday’s win than Williams and forward Andreanna Atkins, who finished with just two points but was a force on defense.
Williams had 13 points at halftime and was the reason the Lady Hornets weren’t down by even more than seven points at the break, and the speedy point guard expects tonight’s game to test her and her teammates even more.
“It’s going to be a hard, physical game,” Williams said. “We have to do what we need to do to get a W, dive after loose balls, box out.”
Cook, which was swept by Pelham in the regular season, took the lead late in the second quarter when Lakeyda Zackery nailed a 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the first half. Cook ended the game on a 12-3 run to take a 30-23 lead into halftime, but Pelham opened the second half on a 16-4 lead and never looked back.
“I just told them that if we have heart, then we should win this game,” Tookes said. “They came out and played with a little bit more intensity in the second half.”
Freeman, who was named the Region 1-AA Player of the Year, was 5-for-8 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free throw line in the third quarter and scored eight unanswered points at one point midway through the period.
No one other than Freeman or Williams scored more than four points for Pelham.
Cook County was led by Elesha Foster, who scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Cook will play Early County today in the third-place game at 4 p.m.
Late Thursday: Pelham boys stay perfect in region, advance to 1-AA title game tonight
PELHAM — The Herald No. 5 Pelham Hornets held Cook scoreless in the 5:15 to pull away and win, 58-37, on Thursday night, advancing to today’s Region 1-AA championship game against Early County.
Pelham (19-7), which is the No. 1 seed after going 12-0 against region opponents in the regular season, led by just five points with 5:15 left but hit 14 of 14 free throws down the stretch, turning the close game into a blowout.
Jaquan Green and Shaquille Crimley scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, to lead Pelham, which also got seven points from both Trevon White and Duntrez Moore.
Early County boys reach first region title game in 6 years
PELHAM — Chris Lee raised a fist into the air and then knelt to the ground, soaking in the victory that his Early County basketball team had been waiting for.
Tracy Blocker ran to the sideline, straight to Early County coach Randy Isom and wrapped his arms around him.
No. 3 seed Early County stormed back for a 64-60 upset of No. 2 seed Thomasville to advance to tonight’s Region 1-AA championship game, and it was a moment that meant the world to the Bobcats program that hadn't been to a region title game in six years.
“Those guys are so happy and so ecstatic because from the beginning of the year and even all the way back to the scrimmage game a lot of people didn’t think we would be here,” Isom said. “But those kids fought through all of that negativity around them and stayed together. We had players out, players hurt, players quit, and guess what? They stayed together.”
Down 10 points in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Early County (16-10) rallied together and fought back against a Thomasville team it split with in the regular season.
A Javarious Thornton free throw with 2:06 left eventually gave Early a 57-56 lead, but Thomasville snagged the lead right back with 55 seconds left when Derek Dixon hit back-to-back jumpers.
However, Early buckled down on defense in the final minute and sank five free throws to hold on for the emotional victory.
“From all the way back in the summer, I have been trying to get these kids focused,” Isom said. “We didn’t have a lot of confidence going into (the season) because we have a young team, but I told them that if we stayed focused and played hard that we always had a chance to win.”
Devontrae Jackson led Early, which plays again tonight for the title against either Pelham or Cook, with 14 points, while Javonte Moore added 11 and Dequan Brown scored 10. Blocker (7 points), Lee (6 points) and Early County football star Jacori Taylor (6 points) also hit big shots down the stretch for the Bobcats.
Thomasville, which will play in today’s third-place game, was led by Trevarius Wimberly, who scored 14 points.
THOMASVILLE GIRLS 67, EARLY COUNTY 46: An inspiring comeback by the Early County girls was stopped cold in Thursday’s Region 1-AA semifinal loss against Thomasville.
After falling behind 17-1 to Thomasville in the first seven minutes of the game, the Lady Bobcats inched back into the contest, pulling within seven points with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
But that was as close as they could get to a Thomasville team that swept Early County in the regular season and entered the region tournament with just one loss in 2013 --- a 49-48 setback to Pelham on Feb. 1.
Thomasville ended the game on a 27-13 run to advance to tonight’s region title game against host Pelham, while Early County will play for third place today against Cook.
Early’s Justice Lee scored eight of her team-high 16 points in a second quarter where the Lady Bobcats outscored Thomasville 16-11 and pulled to within 10 at halftime.
Tynicia McCoy added 10 points and seven rebounds, and Latoya Eaford finished with nine points and eight rebounds for the No. 3 seed Lady Bobcats (18-9), who lost for just the second time in their last nine games.
Thomasville (22-2), which is the No. 2 seed in the tournament after it tied Pelham for the regular season region title with identical 11-1 records but lost the coin flip for the No. 1 seed, was led by Laneisha Douglas’s 18 points and seven rebounds.