There’s a lot to be said for familiarity.
Pike Road, making its first-ever trip to the state tournament, played well for a half and tried not to display the wide-eyed look many first-time participants have.
Defending two-time championship Pisgah didn’t have 2019 Miss Basketball Annie Hughes, but the Eagles had plenty of talent that had played in the state tournament before and knew it was their turn to shine.
Chloe Womack had 26 points and eight rebounds, Molly Heard had 10 points and eight rebounds and newcomer Kallie Tinker had 18 points and six rebounds as the Eagles pulled away to a 72-58 win at Legacy Arena on Tuesday morning.
“We were trying to prepare for this game and there really wasn’t a way to prepare for their height and size,” Pisgah coach Carey Ellison said. “We had to try with fundamentals. Shot making was the difference. We made open 3’s. Molly got over whatever kept her not being at full speed in the first half. Offensively, we haven’t been shooting real well and today we had some drop and I’m glad we finished.”
Pisgah (30-3) will be shooting for its eighth state championship on Friday when it faces the winner of the T.R. Miller-Lauderdale County game. Pike Road ends the season at 26-5, its first loss to a 3A team this season.
“Everybody wants a ring, but they’ve got to understand that Pisgah is used to this,” Pike Road coach Courtney Ward said. “This is our first time playing on a big floor. It’s a growing process. I think we did an outstanding job for a lot of kids to be here for the very first time.”
Early on, the Patriots were a good match for Pisgah, climbing out to a five-point lead a little more than five minutes into it on a Skye Harris 3-pointer. But the Patriots would make just two 3-pointers the remainder of the game, hitting just 3 of 22 long-range shots that reduced their effectiveness.
A pair of Tamirea Thomas baskets in the paint staked Pike Road to a six-point lead early in the second quarter but Pisgah eventually trimmed the deficit to two points at the half, 26-24.
The second half was a different story as the seasoned Eagles turned up the pressure on the newcomers. Pike Road connected on just one field goal over the first three minutes as Pisgah built an eight-point lead, whittled it back to three with two minutes left, only to watch the Eagles score the last 10 points of the third quarter.
In the final two minutes, five Pike Road possessions ended with missed shots, a turnover and a pair of missed free-throw attempts as the Eagles crashed the boards and turned the game in their favor.
“Since our 3’s weren’t really going in, we knew we had to attack,” Womack said. “If we could get them in trouble and get their post players on the bench, we knew that would help us a lot.”
In the fourth quarter, Pisgah led by as many as 18 points and Pike Road never got closer than nine.
Womack, a senior who hit just 2 of 11 shots last year in the championship game against Montgomery Academy, took over the leadership role from the graduated Hughes and was 15 of 16 at the free throw line. Heard, a freshman last year who was 1 of 5 against Montgomery Academy, was a valuable contributor in the paint and Tinker, an eighth grader who watched from the bench a year ago, was effective in leading the Eagle offense.
Aaliyah Manora led Pike Road with 13 points, followed by Koya Knight with 12 points and nine rebounds and Thomas with 12 points and eight rebounds, Harris with 11 and Sheria Clement with 10.