Gadsden City falls 59-54 to No. 2 Shades Valley in regional semifinal


Gadsden City's Hannah Harris passes over the press of Shades Valley's Morgan William, center, and Frantisha Tyson in the Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal game at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State University on Wednesday. (Photo by Eric T. Wright | Gadsden Times)


JACKSONVILLE — Leave it to Gadsden City junior post player Dajia Williams to put things in perspective.

“In the end, we came, we fought, we played hard and we had fun. That’s all that matters,” she said.

Williams’ Titans fell to No. 2 Shades Valley 59-54 Wednesday in the semifinals of the Class 6A Northeast Regional girls high school basketball tournament at Jacksonville State.

It was a battle of wills, as Shades Valley (31-1) relied on speed and quickness with a stingy fullcourt press. Gadsden City (22-9) tried to stay balanced, using an inside and outside game on offense to go with a matchup zone on defense.

It led to 13 lead changes and what turned out to be an epic matchup for thousands in attendance at Pete Mathews Coliseum.

“We executed the majority of our gameplan, but their speed and quickness did hurt us,” said Gadsden City coach Jeremy Brooks, who has taken the Titans to five straight regional tournament appearances. “But I’m proud of my kids. We didn’t come down here to lose but I think, overall, you can say that was a quality girls basketball game.”

Turnovers may have been the difference. Gadsden City gave the ball away 26 times and Shades Valley turned that into 22 points on the other end. The Mounties committed just six turnovers.

Foul trouble hurt, too, as Williams was neutralized for much of the second half — especially in the fourth quarter. Williams, who came in averaging 20 points per contest in the postseason, scored 12 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

“It changed my game because I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to be,” said Williams, who picked up her fourth foul with 25 seconds to go in the third and fouled out late in the game. “I just had to watch what I did because I wanted to stay in as long as I could to help my teammates. I know they depend on me as much as I depend on them.”

Despite the turnovers and foul trouble, Gadsden City still had a shot at winning the game. But Shades Valley came up with the big play when it needed it most.

Leading 53-52 as the clock ticked under a minute to go, speedy guard Morgan William found an opening through the lane. She challenged the much taller Williams and found a way to get her shot to fall while drawing a foul. She calmly hit her free throw to give the Mounties a little breathing room, and Williams walked to the bench with her fifth foul.

“I think it played a big factor in the game,” Brooks said of Williams’ foul trouble. “She’s dominated the last several games. If she could have played totally aggressive, not timid, that would have helped us out. But, oh well.”

After another Shades Valley free throw, Chelsea Knight cut the Titans’ deficit to 57-54 on a layup with 23 seconds remaining. But Mountie guard Frantisha Tyson made a pair of free throws six seconds later to seal the game.

Shades Valley made 15 of 20 from the free-throw line, compared to Gadsden City’s 6 of 12.

“I thought we battled,” Brooks said. “It went down to the wire. I know they made one or two drives, (and) a few plays went their way right at the end.”

Gadsden City let it be known early it wasn’t intimidated by the Mounties, who lost their only game of the season in November.

The Titans led 14-12 at the end of the first quarter and took their biggest lead at 28-20 on Hannah Harris’ 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining in the half.

The key to the good start was TK Blount, who scored all of her 13 points in the first half.

“I was just playing my game,” said Blount, a sophomore. “I was more nervous than I was last time, and I don’t know why.”

It didn’t show. Blount made 6 of 7 shots in the first half and had Mountie defenders swiping at air with quick crossovers to get herself open looks. She made several difficult jumpers and, in turn, gave the entire team confidence the rest of the way.

“It was big, and that’s what we told her to do,” Brooks said. “She really gave us energy to start off, knowing that we could play with them. Against an opponent you haven’t played during the season that is so highly ranked and thought of not just in Alabama but the Southeast, you know there can be a little doubt creep in sometimes whether or not you can play with them. But we deserved to be here, and I think we showed that.”

Despite being harassed by the Shades Valley fullcourt pressure defense, the Titans took a 31-26 lead into halftime. But that’s when the Mounties really turned up the intensity — both on offense and defense.

Shades Valley’s Shannell Jackson and Tyson made 3-pointers and William hit two free throws to help the Mounties open the second half with an 8-2 run.

Gadsden City didn’t go away, though, as Williams hit two shots inside and Harris busted a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch of the third quarter to keep it close.

But the Titans committed 10 turnovers in the third quarter when they finally started showing some wear against the Shades Valley defense.

“When we pressed in the first half, we didn’t have enough energy,” Shades Valley coach Tonya Hunter said. “We went in and made a few adjustments and I challenged them to play a little harder. Coming out in the third quarter, we made those adjustments and it caused them to have turnovers.”

Brooks said fatigue played a part.

“We didn’t really meet the passes,” he said. “We were throwing some of the same passes early in the game, but we quit going to meet the pass. (Shades Valley) started being a little bit more aggressive, especially when we got the lead on them. I think they felt the pressure, and it caused them to turn up their defensive intensity. But again, a lot of (the turnovers), were just maybe bad decisions.”

Gadsden City’s 47-44 deficit heading into the fourth quarter was erased quickly by Brooke Burns’ 3-pointer. A free throw by DeWaynna Martin gave the Titans a 48-47 lead and, after a layup by Shades Valley’s Tyson, Harris made it 50-49 with a layup at the 5:34 mark.

It was the final lead of the game for the Titans. They brought it within 53-52 on Martin’s layup with 3:17 to go, but Gadsden City would get just one more field goal the rest of the way.

Harris, a senior, came off the bench to score 11 for the Titans. Burns, an eight-grade point guard, scored six points and pulled down six rebounds. She turned it over just three times against the teeth of the Shades Valley press.

Tyson scored a game-high 17 points. William went for 15 points and freshman post player Katelynn Thomas had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Mounties, who advanced to play Huntsville on Friday for the regional championship. Huntsville defeated Mountain Brook 60-45 in the other semifinal.