Pelham leading scorer and Herald Super 6er Briunna Freeman sits alone on the bench with her head buried in her jersey after the Lady Hornets lost in the region title game for the second straight year Friday, this time in overtime to Thomasville. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PELHAM — Briunna Freeman sat alone at the end of the bench — her face buried in her hands, tears dripping from her eyes.
She just couldn’t bear to look at the center of her home court.
Freeman and the Herald No. 3 Pelham girls basketball team sat in stunned silence as Thomasville hoisted the Region 1-AA championship trophy after Friday’s thrilling, 33-30 victory in overtime — a game that was as exciting as advertised but inevitably was going to leave somebody in tears.
Freeman just never thought it would be her.
“I don’t know what was running through my head right then, but I know what was coming out my eyes,” Freeman said. “When I went to the locker room, I walked off the court thinking about what (more) I could have done.”
Freeman, a Herald Super 6er and Region 1-AA Player of the Year, was held to two points in the second half and scored just 13 in the game.
She hit two free throws with seven seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, but the sophomore was smothered all night by Thomasville’s Ricorsha Johnson and only attempted three field goals in the second half.
“As a basketball player you always want to go off the court saying what you did, and you don’t want to go off the court saying what you could have done,” Freeman said. “Right now, that’s what I’m saying. I’m feeling kind of sad because I felt like I let my team down.”
Neither team pulled away by more than a handful of points in the low-scoring, back-and-forth game, which was bound to be close after the rivals split in the regular seasons by one point each way and entered the tournament with identical 11-1 region records.
“If we play Thomasville 10 times, then we would probably win five times and they would probably win five times,” Pelham coach Antonia Tookes said. “It’s just two good teams, and we would have loved to have (Friday’s game).”
It was the second region title in three years for the Lady Bulldogs, who redeemed their only loss in 2013 and enter the state tournament as a No. 1 seed and 23-3 overall.
“This says a lot about us,” Thomasville coach Thomas McAboy said. “We worked hard all throughout the year, trying to stay focused in situations exactly like this. This is a testament to the hard work that we put in throughout the whole year.”
Pelham (23-4), which had a 13-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time at home all season, will be a No. 2 seed in next week’s state playoffs and will play the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AA.
The teams went into halftime tied at 14-14, and Pelham’s 20-16 lead with 4:43 left in the third quarter was the largest lead for either team in the second half. Every shot in the fourth quarter either tied the game or changed the lead, including two free throws by Thomasville’s Bree Brown with 1:25 left that gave the Lady Bulldogs a 29-27 lead.
Freeman turned the ball over on the next possession, but Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one for Thomasville, giving Pelham a final shot at sending the game into OT.
With nine seconds left in regulation, Tookes called her final timeout and drew up a play for Freeman to take the ball to the basket. Pelham’s star sophomore never made it to the hoop, getting fouled on the way by Johnson, which sent her to the free throw line with seven seconds left for the two biggest shots of her life.
The first one was nothing but net. Free throw No. 2 hit the front of the rim and rolled in, sending the packed Pelhem gym into a frenzy.
“Those were two huge free throws,” Tookes said. “There was nobody else I would have rather had on the line than her. That was big for her, and I was glad she was able to do that because she was lost in the second half.”
Pelham’s only point in overtime was a free throw from Hilary Williams, who missed a runner in the lane with 15 seconds left that would have given the Lady Hornets a one-point lead. Instead, Williams picked up a flagrant foul on the ensuing possession, which put the Lady Bulldogs on the free throw line and gave them possession, essentially ending the game.
Freeman, who was the only Lady Hornet to finish in double figures, stood outside of the locker room in tears after the game, confident the loss wouldn’t affect her team as it enters the state tournament.
“I know that my team is going to go to war,” Freeman said. “We didn’t give up (Friday). We kept fighting. Now we have to come to practice and get it there. We are going to go hard in practice and then take it one game at a time.”
Williams finished with nine points and six rebounds for Pelham, while Timbreanna Hudson added four points and a team-high eight rebounds and McKenzie Smith had four points.
Brown led Thomasville with 13 points and 15 rebounds, and Ja Dunbar finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
LATE FRIDAY — PELHAM BOYS 52, EARLY COUNTY 39: The Herald No. 5 Hornets outscored Early County, 18-9, in the fourth quarter to win their first region championship since 2005.
Darrius Spence scored 14 points to lead Pelhem (20-7), which ran the table in Region 1-AA in the regular season to clinch home court for the region tournament.
Devontrae Jackson and Jacori Taylor each scored eight for Early County, which upset Thomasville on Thursday to advance to Friday’s championship game.