Cedar Bluff loses to Brantley in Class 1A state semifinals


Cedar Bluff’s Delilah Price, right, attempts to stop a pass from Brantley’s Amahni Upshaw to Dominique Caldwell (2) during Tuesday’s Class 1A state semifinal girls high school basketball game in Birmingham. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times)


BIRMINGHAM — It was a Cinderella story that stunned the girls basketball scene in Northeast Alabama during the past two weeks.

Yet in the season’s final chapter, the slipper didn’t fit the Cedar Bluff Tigers.

Cedar Bluff’s run through the postseason ended Tuesday evening, as the Tigers lost to the No. 6 Brantley Bulldogs 42-31 in the Class 1A state semifinals.

The lights of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex were a bit too bright for the Tigers (18-16), who were making their first Final 48 appearance after winning the Northeast Regional title last week at Jacksonville State.

The historic run may have continued if not for such a poor start against the Bulldogs (24-6) on Tuesday.

“The lights to me were intimidating,” Cedar Bluff senior Hannah Leach said. “I guess we were real nervous when we came out today.”

It showed, as Brantley stormed to a 20-2 lead by the 6:18 mark of the second quarter.

The Bulldogs used their speed and size advantage, which may have helped them get settled in quicker than the Tigers.

“I told them before the game we had to be relaxed and come out and play the game fast,” Brantley coach Andrew Kilcrease said. “They did that.”

Most teams may have been discouraged, but Cedar Bluff was not. It kept fighting, just like it did the final two weeks of the season.

The Tigers, after losing six of their last seven regular-season games, faced 10th-ranked and heavily favored Collinsville in the semifinals of the Area 10 tournament. The season was supposed to end there, but Cedar Bluff battled for a 79-69 upset of the Panthers to secure a spot in the sub-regional round.

After falling to Spring Garden in the area tournament title game, Cedar Bluff beat Appalachian to reach the Northeast Regional round of the playoffs. The Tigers then beat Skyline to set up a yet another matchup with Spring Garden in the regional title game. Despite losing to Spring Garden three times earlier in the season, Cedar Bluff finally got a 47-43 victory over the Panthers to advance to the Final 48.

“The biggest thing of turning it around (is) they gained confidence,” Cedar Bluff coach Joe Carpenter said.

But on Tuesday, the Tigers just dug too deep of a hole.

Cedar Bluff trailed by as many as 23 points in the first half, with the Bulldogs outscoring the Tigers 16-2 on turnovers. Brantley eventually led 30-12 at the half.

“We challenged them at halftime to respond, keep fighting and see if we could get ourselves back in the ballgame,” Carpenter said. “They did that, just unfortunately we didn’t get enough on the offensive end.”

Cedar Bluff went to a fullcourt press to open the third quarter, appearing to frustrate the Brantley offense at times.

Still, both teams scored just four points in the third quarter, leaving Cedar Bluff behind 34-16 heading into the final period.

That’s when the Tigers got going on offense, opening the quarter with a 10-2 run to pull within 10 with 2:47 to play.

“If we quit, it would have made us look pretty bad,” Cedar Bluff’s Katie McGinnis said. “I didn’t want to disappoint anybody. We kind of already (had), so we had to do what we could to catch back up.”

The Tigers never could break the 10-point deficit barrier though, trailing 38-28 on Delilah Price’s layup and 40-30 on a pair of free throws from Audrey Hargitt.

“It’s definitely tough to stay focused if you get so ahead and get relaxed,” Brantley’s Erica Daniels said. “But we managed to pull it together.”

Cedar Bluff turned the tables on Brantley in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs 12-2 off turnovers. After the 20-2 deficit to begin the game, the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 29-22 the rest of the way.

“I think the second half we calmed down and played Cedar Bluff basketball,” Carpenter said. “Unfortunately, in the first half, we knew what to do — we just didn’t do it at times. And I’ll take the blame for that. I’m extremely proud of them and wouldn’t trade them for anybody in the world. They’re the best bunch of girls I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.”

Hargitt, last week’s Northeast Regional MVP, didn’t get on the scoreboard in the first half but had nine points in the second half. She also pulled down five rebounds. McGinnis also scored nine points, while Leach went for seven points. Rylie Johnson, Price and Jasmine Adams each added two points. Amahni Upshaw scored a game-high 11 points for Brantley, who advanced to play Keith in Friday’s state championship game. Daniels scored just five points, but pulled down 16 rebounds.