Pelham leading scorer and Herald Super 6er Briunna Freeman (12) splits the Northeast, Macon defense Tuesday night to score two of her game-high 21 points during the Lady Hornets’ 48-30 win in the first round of state. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
PELHAM — Just in case you didn’t know, Briunna Freeman is from Pelham.
That’s what Freeman, a Herald Super 6er, said after Pelham knocked off Northeast, Macon, 48-30, in the opening round of the Class AA girls state playoffs Tuesday night.
And she said it with emphasis.
“Everybody (at school Tuesday) was talking about their name,’’ said Freeman, who poured in 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “They were saying ‘Northeast,’ like it was some big name of something, and they were saying how they were coming all the way down here from Macon, and how they were from Macon, like it was some big thing. Well, ‘I’m from Pelham!’ ’’
Indeed she is.
And Freeman is a big reason Pelham (25-4) has a chance to make a run at a state title. The Lady Hornets, ranked No. 3 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll, will wait to see who they will play in the next round. McIntosh Academy, the No. 1 team from Region 2-AA, faces Screven County, a No. 4 seed from Region 3-AA, tonight. Pelham is already in.
“Everybody wants to go to the Sweet 16,” Pelham coach Antonia Tookes said. “Thank God we made it.‘’
Pelham got there with a knockout-punch defense and enough emotion to carry this group deep into the playoffs. The kids were still upset after losing to Thomasville in overtime Friday night in the Region 1-AA title game.
“They wanted to redeem themselves,’’ Tookes said. “They felt they let themselves down in the region championship game.
“They stepped up (Tuesday), and that’s the way to step up. You have to step up when you’re playing in the state playoffs. It can be anybody’s game.’’
Freeman said all the players were upset after losing to Thomasville.
“We had to redeem ourselves,’’ she said. “Everybody was talking after we lost. I was mad because everyone was talking. We were ready.’’
Pelham simply made life miserable Northeast Macon. The Lady Hornets’ defense stopped Northeast cold in the second quarter, not allowing a single point from the floor in the quarter to take a 24-10 lead to halftime. Pelham cranked up the defensive pressure again in the fourth quarter and didn’t allow a single point until Rayna Porter made a free throw with 4:08 left in the game, and didn’t allow anything from the floor until Kendra Green hit a drive with 1:46 left in the game.
“That’s great defense,’’ Tookes said. “That’s what we’re trying to work on, playing great defense.”
It worked. Northeast went to halftime shooting just 12 percent from the field (3-for-24) and finished the game shooting just 20 percent from the floor. Pelham forced 24 turnovers and kept the pressure on all night.
Northeast scored half its points from beyond the arc, hitting five treys, including three by Zyleshia Graham, who opened the game by hitting her first two shots. But Pelham took over and never trailed after that. Timbreanna Hudson dropped in 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and also blocked a shot and her tough presence inside all but shut down Northeast in the paint.
Northeast Macon (16-10) didn’t just miss shots. The Raiderettes, who were led by Porter (14 points) and Green (10 points) were missing starters.
“I’ve got two starters out with fractures and another girl with a torn ACL,‘’ said Northeast coach Cynthia Booker, whose team finished third in Region 4-AA after leading it for most of the season. “We were on top of the region. We were 12-2 in the region before the injuries.’’
Hornets’ dream season ends in stunner late Tuesday, 56-53, vs. Macon County
PELHAM — Pelham's Hornets probably figured when they got to the playoffs, the games would come down to the free throw line.
Unfortunately for Pelham, the free throws came on the other end of the court.
Pelham's magical season ended Tuesday in a heartbreaking 56-53 loss to Macon County, which made 12 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter and put the game away when Karletz Hooks hit two free throws with 4.3 seconds left.
"Free throws,'' Pelham coach Laron Smith said. "Free throws in the fourth quarter.''
Pelham made 25 of 25 from the free throw line in the semifinals and finals of the Region 1-AA tournament last week, hitting 14 of 14 against Cook in the semis and 11 of 11 against Early County in the title game.
Pelham took seven free throws in the fourth (and made just four of them) Tuesday and watched its season end.
The Hornets came back from an eight-point deficit and knotted the score at 48-48 when Darius Spence hit a pair of free throws with 1:08 left to play, but Macon County's Juwon Willock, who finished with 13 points, made the play of the game when he zipped a no-look pass to Deon Joiner, who hit a dive to give Macon County a 50-48 lead with just under a minute left in the game.
Spence, who scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation with 35 seconds left and Hooks hit a free throw with 26 seconds left to lift Macon County to a 51-48 lead. Hooks missed his second free throw, but Joiner grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws with 24 seconds left to make it a 53-48 game.
But Pelham almost pulled out a miracle finish. Shydarious Williams, who had not scored all night, hit a 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds left to close to 53-51, and the Hornets fouled immediately. Joiner made a free throw but missed his second one with 12.9 seconds left, and Pelham raced down court and went inside to Spence, who hit a short jumper with 5.1 seconds left to close to 54-53. Then Hooks, who led Macon County with 15 points, closed out the game with two more free throws after being fouled.
"They never quit,'' Smith said of his kids. "I'm proud of them.''
Pelham (20-8) had won 17 of its last 18 games and entered the state playoffs as the No. 1 seed from Region 1-AA, but the Hornets had a tough draw against Macon County, which entered as the No. 4 seed from Region 4-AA.
Macon County (17-12) was the No. 2 team in the region in the regular season, but it slipped to the fourth seed during the region tournament.
"We were No. 2 all year until the tournament,'' said Macon County coach Charles Ivey, whose team gave up a lot of height to Pelham but beat the Hornets inside. The Bulldogs scored every point from the floor in the paint in the second half.
"That's us, free throws and layups,'' added Ivey, whose team made 20 of 31 free throws for the night. "That's who we are. We're one of the shortest teams anywhere so we have to have a transition game. I told them, 'Get the ball and go to transition on every play.' "
Macon County pushed the ball inside, and it paid off .
"They beat us in the paint. We never made the adjustment,'' Smith said. "Our kids like to defend on the perimeter. We couldn't break the habit.''
Meanwhile, Macon County backed up into a zone and waited.
"We usually play man, but we were really afraid of their dribble and drive,'' Ivey said. "That's really a good team. No doubt about that. But we got them on a bad night. They probably missed more shots than they usually do.''
Pelham trailed, 17-16, at halftime and found itself down by eight points, 31-23, late in the third quarter before coming back to make it a nailbiter at the end.
Shaquille Crimley led the Hornets with 13 points, and Trevon White finished with eight points for a young team that will be hungry next season. The Hornets not only had to make the move this season from Class A to Class AA, where they went 12-0 in the region race, but Smith's team had only one senior — Williams — in the starting lineup.
No one predicted this kind of season for the young Hornets, who were one of the biggest surprises in Southwest Georgia.
Smith, who is in his 15th year as a coach, said it was a season he will never forget.
"I love them,'' Smith said. "This is one of the best groups I have ever had. Not best athletes, but best groups.''