It might not have followed the script, but by the end of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the top two seeds had advanced in the Class 4A Area 4 girls tournament at Trinity.
Top-seeded Trinity found themselves in an unexpectedly close game with LAMP late in the third quarter before pulling away for a 53-35 victory and second-seeded Alabama Christian found themselves in a similar situation before exploding late for an easy 70-39 win.
Trinity (16-10) and ACA (16-10) earned a berth in the state playoffs in the process and will face each other for the area tournament title on Friday at 5 p.m. in the Trinity gym. The winner of Friday’s game will play Ashford in the sub-regional round on Monday at 7 p.m., while the loser will travel to Headland.
Trinity is 3-0 against the Eagles this season.
“We’ve got to play like we played tonight for 32 minutes,” ACA coach Mike Anderson said. “Trinity’s a good basketball team, Blake does a good job with them, they shoot the ball well. When they shoot the ball well, they’re real good.”
The Wildcats jumped out to an 11-0 lead over LAMP in Wednesday’s opener and it looked like another rout in the making, but the Golden Tigers slowly chipped away at the lead and finally jumped in front 20-19 with 1:08 remaining in the half when Ariel Johnson hit a 3-pointer and a jumper in the lane on back-to-back possessions. Just as quickly, Trinity scored three times in the final 38 seconds to take a 26-20 lead into the locker room.
“We’ve had trouble putting the ball in the basket all year,” LAMP coach Michael Thornton said, “but another thing that we do a lot is we lose focus and allow mistakes to compound themselves. We did a much better job of that tonight but against a team that executes as well as Trinity, you make two mistakes in a row and that’s what opens the game up.”
LAMP (3-22) came back late in the third quarter, trimming the deficit to a basket before failing to tie the game on three consecutive possessions. Mackenzie Arant hit a 3-pointer and Kenslee Harrison added another and suddenly the Wildcats had a comfortable 38-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
“I’ve been waiting for them to see what I’ve seen in them all year,” Thornton said. “We’ve played some really good teams, but we got better every single game. I wish they would have seen what I knew they were capable of a little earlier this season. Things might have gone differently. But I knew they had it in them.”
Arant led the way with 11 points, followed by Emma Kate Smith with 10 and Harrison with nine, but Trinity coach Blake Smith was proud of the way his responded to the inspiring play of the Golden Tigers.
“Isn’t that the way you want it?” he said, referring to a closely contested game as opposed to a rout. “Sure, at halftime, I didn’t like it, but I thought (the players) responded, they didn’t panic and in the second half we came out and played like we’re supposed to play.
“(LAMP) hit some (shots) early on that I haven’t seen them hit, but they hit them. I think what happens in a situation like that is they gain confidence and you start getting a little tight. That’s what happens with a one seed and a four seed, the games haven’t been close all year. That’s where I’m proud of my girls, for not getting so tight they couldn’t play.”
Caitlin Russell led LAMP with 10 points, followed by Johnson with nine and Buu Thieu with seven, drawing praise from Smith.
“I said it when he got the job (last year), he works with them,” he said. “Those girls over there work and that’s the third time they’ve played us (this season) and they’ve improved every time.”
The second game didn’t follow the same script, but it was similar in some ways. ACA jumped out to a 19-9 lead over Catholic at the end of the first quarter and took a 13-point lead into the locker room at the half, but an inspired Catholic squad aggressively fought back into the contest and trimmed the deficit to four points midway through the quarter before the Eagles responded with a 12-1 run to close out the quarter.
“I thought we did a good job in our halfcourt man-to-man defense,” Anderson said. “In the second half, we pressed them and they cut it to four. Then (assistant coach Vittoria Poole) talked me into getting out of the press and we end up winning by 30. Catholic, they’ve got some young kids and they’re getting better. They’re going to be a handful next year.”
Mary Hall led ACA with 15 points, followed by Josie Barlow with 14 and Lindsey Glass with 10. Lorren Pharrams led Catholic with 15 points, followed by Jamya Henderson with nine.
The Knights (5-13), like LAMP, return every starter next year.
“We made a nice run there in the third quarter, made a great run, then we couldn’t do anything,” Catholic coach Jill Clark said. “I feel like we’ve improved in some areas. We lost our only varsity player back from last year (Nona Johnson to injury) and that hurt us. Everybody else has had to step up and learn by fire. But they work hard. We’ve just got to learn the game.”