Pelham’s Briunna Freeman, McKenzie Smith (22) and Mahogany Brown (13) go for the loose ball Thursday night in the Region 1-AA semifinals at Pelham High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
PELHAM — Late in the first quarter with Pelham High School holding a 10-point lead in the Region 1-AA semifinals Thursday night, coach Antonia Tookes wasn’t happy with her team’s play.
In the span of a few seconds, Destiny Thomas drilled a 3-pointer, then Herald Super 6er Briunna Freeman created a steal at midcourt, then drove down and converted a layup.
In what has become routine this season for the Lady Hornets, Pelham rolled to an easy 80-34 rout of Cook County in the Region 1-AA semifinals, improved to a perfect 24-0 and earned a date with No. 3 seed Early County for the region championship tonight.
At least for the moment, Tookes’ scowl went to somewhat of a smile.
“I was telling them to box out, just like I have for the last 24 games,” Tookes said. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. But other than that, it was a great job by the girls. They were ready from the tip.”
Freeman remembers very well what her coach was screaming from courtside in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
“We know she means business,” said Freeman, who finished with a double-double consisting of 19 points and 16 rebounds.
“If we don’t play on the court, we will sit on the bench. She doesn’t care how good you are. If you don’t do the right things on the court, you’re going to sit on the bench.”
Aside from Tookes’ assessment that her team failed to box out on defense, there was very little that went wrong for the Lady Hornets, who are a win away from capturing their second goal of the season — the Region 1-AA tournament championship.
Despite rolling through the region with relative ease, Tookes expects tonight’s battle with Early County to be different than the previous two.
“We’ve got a bullseye on our back,” she said. “Everybody is going to play their best game against us. If it keeps us focused, I like it. And so far, it has kept our team focused.”
Maintaining focus didn’t seem to be an issue Thursday night. Pelham built a 41-12 lead at halftime and never looked back. Four players, including Freeman, finished the game in double-figure scoring.
Annie Franklin finished with 18 points, Destiny Thomas added 14 and Hilary Williams finished with 10. Aaliyah Williams finished with nine points, all in the final quarter.
“We came out ready from the start,” said Thomas, who also added six steals. “We knew what we had to do. This puts us a step closer to our second goal — a region championship.”
PELHAM BOYS 58, THOMASVILLE 41: Pelham won its 17th straight game and improved to 21-3 with a big victory over Thomasville in the late game Thursday night of the Region 1-AA Tournament.
The Hornets, the top seed, advance to meet Early County in the Region 1-AA Tournament Championship Game tonight at 8:30 p.m.
Pelham built a big first quarter and was never seriously challenged although Thomasville did cut the Hornets' double-digit lead to seven late in the final quarter.
Shaquille Crimley and Jaquan Greene led the Hornets with 11 points each, while Joshua Russell added 10. Darrius Spence and Duntrez Moore finished with seven points apiece.
Early County boys, girls advance to title games
PELHAM — There is a reason Early County girls coach Kimmie Graham wanted the ball in Tynicia McCoy’s hands.
After second-seeded Thomasville scored the go-ahead bucket in regulation with eight seconds left, McCoy never wavered in her attempt to tie and send the game into overtime. She dribbled down the baseline and sank a layup off the glass as time expired.
Then she took over in overtime and helped the third-seeded Lady Bobcats into the Region 1-AA championship game with a 57-48 win over the Lady Bulldogs Thursday at Pelham High School.
“We had called timeout with 18 seconds left, and I told them that if we managed to let them score, I wanted Tynicia to go down and score a basket to tie the game,” Graham said. “The girls said they like fifth quarters, but you know there isn’t a coach that likes a fifth quarter. I would have liked to have gotten the win (in regulation) and been done with it.
“But I was proud of them.”
The victory ensures Early County (16-9), which will finish as either the No. 1 or 2 seed from Region 1-AA, will be home in the first round of the state tournament that will begin next week.
McCoy finished with a game-high 28 in a game that was tight throughout the contest. Neither team led by more than five. It seemed like the Lady Bobcats would grab the lead for good with 3:14 left when McCoy drilled a trey from the right wing to make it 40-38.
But Thomasville (16-10) surged back to tie, then took the lead at 45-43 in the closing seconds on a lay-in underneath the basket by Danisha Jones. That set up McCoy’s heroics.
Early County, which needed overtime to win Tuesday’s opening-round game against Brooks County, also got 10 points from LaToya Eaford and six from Aubrey Brackins.
EARLY COUNTY BOYS 63, COOK 60 (OT): It was the break the Early County boys were looking for.
Qubilah Hall found Traquez Wells open in the paint, and Wells promptly sank a layup to give the Bobcats the lead with 1:04 left in overtime.
Then Wells iced the game with a pair of free throws with less than 10 seconds left as the Early County boys advanced to tonight’s Region 1-AA championship game after downing Cook Thursday night.
That means a young Early County squad will finish either as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed from Region 1-AA and play host to a first round state playoff game next week.
Javarious Thornton led the Bearcats with 22 points, while Hall and Dentavious Thornton finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Early County had a chance to end the game in regulation. With just a few seconds left and the Bobcats playing for the final shot, officials whistled Early for traveling with three seconds left.
But after falling behind six early in overtime, Early roared back to tie it at 59 before Hall found Wells underneath.