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Lanett girls beat Sand Rock 45-39


Sand Rock’s Madison McCullough drives against Lanett’s Ataiya Bridges during Monday’s game. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times)


JACKSONVILLE — Though things may seem dim now for the Sand Rock girls basketball team, the future is oh so bright.

The Wildcats fell to Lanett 45-39 Monday afternoon at the Class 2A Northeast Regional tournament. The loss at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State University ended Sand Rock’s season at 21-9, but at the very least, Lisa Bates’ squad proved they will be a team to reckon with in years to come.

“I thought my girls played hard,” said coach Bates, who didn’t have a single senior and only a handful of juniors step on the floor Monday. “They’ve been playing hard at the end of the year, giving it all they got. I was proud of their effort and intensity and I’m looking forward to the future.

“We’re here this year and I expect to be here for the next several.”

Though Sand Rock was ranked ninth in the final 2A poll and Lanett (18-10) was unranked, the Panthers appeared to be the more dominant team when they stepped on the floor. They were bigger, faster and played much more physically than the Wildcats.

But Sand Rock didn’t blink through the first three quarters. The Wildcats led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter before Lanett’s style of play finally started taking its toll.

Sophomore Courtney Rowe, who ended the game with 12 points, buried a 3-pointer to put Sand Rock ahead 25-15 with 5:25 remaining in the third. That’s when Lanett finally switched to the full-court pressure defense Bates said she was expecting all along.

“Why did they not start in it?” Bates asked during the post game press conference. “We were waiting. I had the girls so ready for it. I told them the first five minutes was going to be the most intense pressure they’ve seen, and they started off in a zone.”

While Sand Rock handled it at first, the increase in defensive pressure allowed the Panthers to force a few turnovers and get back in the game. Lanett went on an 11-1 run in a 3:41 span to tie the game before Sand Rock’s Madison Smith hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 28-26 advantage heading into the fourth.

Lanett scored eight points off turnovers in the third quarter. Sand Rock had zero.

“Defense, defense, defense,” Lanett coach Jennifer Morris said. “That was definitely what I told the girls from the get go — that was what was going to win the ballgame. The full-court (press) has worked for us the past six or seven games. I figured that would probably work and they beat us long the first few times. But the girls just kept pushing it. That’s the one thing I can say about these girls — they have resilience and they keep working and keep working and hammering away at it.”

Sand Rock pushed its lead to 30-26 on its first possession of the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats did not make another field goal until 1:57 remaining. By then, Lanett had built a 38-33 lead behind junior Miracle Mayo and senior Alexis Harvey, who both hit a pair of jumpers during the stretch.

Sand Rock cut it to a 38-37 deficit when Smith came up with a steal and went coast-to-coast for a layup with 1:15 remaining, but that’s as close as the Wildcats would get.

Smith, a junior, finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Lanett was able to keep Sand Rock point guard and star freshman Emily Langley in check. Langley scored five points and missed on all seven of her 3-point attempts.

“We knew going in that those two were two of their main ones,” Morris said of Smith and Langley. “We knew 22 (Langley) was their ball handler and 11 (Smith) was their big girl. We took care of what we needed to take care of. That’s what I told the girls (Sunday), that if we could shut that down, we could take of what we needed to take care of.”

Bates said she was surprised at the lack of outside game the Wildcats had Monday, as they made just 2 of 12 from the 3-point line. That wasn’t enough to make the Panthers expand their defense in the half court.

“Emily is one of our best outside shooters, she usually doesn’t have games where she’s 0 for 7,” Bates said. “I thought she had good looks and I was telling her to shoot the ball. I think if we would have hit a few more out there, it could have opened up a little bit more on the drive inside. We knew it was going to be tough to just score on them one-on-one.”

Ataiya Bridges scored 14 points for Lanett, who advanced to play No. 1 Woodland in the regional final Thursday. Erin Boyd and Mayo both had eight points, while Harvey went for six points and 11 rebounds.