Taylor County’s Mickell Greene (40) tries to block the shot of Pelham’s Destiny Thomas (24) Monday night in the second round of the Class AA state tournament at Pelham High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
PELHAM — It was a simple look from Pelham High School girls coach Antonia Tookes.
But in that look, Pelham players said they could feel her intensity.
When it gets to this point in the season, coaches search for any form of motivation to help get their team into the next round of the state basketball tournament.
Pelham used an 11-0 run midway through the third quarter after Taylor County had trimmed a double-figure deficit to six and ran away with a 53-37 victory over the Lady Vikings on Monday night in the second round of the Class AA girls state basketball tournament.
It wasn’t the kind of victory Pelham fans have become accustomed to in their house — a blowout where the Lady Hornets score early and often — but it was enough to extend their unbeaten season to 27-0 and secured a quarterfinal matchup with Lucy Laney High of Augusta. The Lady Wildcats pounded McIntosh County Academy 85-54 in their second-round matchup.
“They made us play their game at times,” Pelham’s Destiny Smith said. “But in the second half, we started to play our game, getting steals and rebounds. We were able to win, so that’s all that matters.”
Taylor County (21-11), the second seed from Region 4-AA, gave Pelham all it could handle, throwing a 2-3 zone and forcing the Lady Hornets to the outside. But Tookes said her team lacked the defensive intensity she has grown accustomed to.
“We did seem a little out of sync,” Tookes said. “But if we play defense the way I like to play defense, we would have generated a lot more turnovers.”
Pelham built leads as high as 12 in the first half before Taylor charged back. Rasheeka Simmons scored six of her 16 points to open the third quarter to make it 26-20 before Pelham finally caught fire and ignited the capacity crowd.
Hilary Williams stole a pass at midcourt, dished to Destiny Thomas on the wing before Thomas found Briunna Freeman underneath the basket for an easy lay-in that made it 34-20 with 2:44 left in the third.
It was that play that put the Lady Hornets in command.
“I don’t know if that play was a game-changer or not, but it did extend the lead back to where we wanted it to be,” Tookes said. “These girls were prepared mentally. They knew what they had to do as far as creating turnovers, and we were able to get one.”
Pelham held Taylor without a basket for the first 1:48 of the final quarter, pushing its lead to 45-25 on a pair of free throws from Thomas.
Taylor slowed Pelham’s quick, up-tempo offense in the first half. They stayed within striking distance until the Lady Hornets began to create turnovers in the second half.
“We can play slow or fast, which is what makes us pretty good,” Tookes said. “But we have to make better decisions when we slow down and better decisions when we turn it up.”
It’s expected to get much harder in the quarterfinals against Laney, the Region 3-AA champions. That game wasn’t set at press time, however, the GHSA brackets state that the third round must be played on Wednesday.
Freeman led the way with 25 points, while Thomas added 16.