“That was a big win,” Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford said. “Anniston has an outstanding basketball team. Both of us came into tonight losing to Gadsden City. Me and Coach (Bullock) talked on Sunday for an hour and a half. We knew it would be battle and knew it was going to be a game of runs. We are lucky that they didn’t get a big run on us, but they were able to cut into that 11-point lead that we had. Had both of the big girls coaches here tonight and I think both of them put on a show for the fans. It was a playoff atmosphere and I think both of us needed it.”
Sylacauga’s Shakayla Thomas and Anniston’s Nene Bolton didn’t disappoint with their college coaches in attendance. Thomas, a Florida State signee, scored 31 points, while Bolton, an Alabama signee, scored 22 points.
Thomas got going in the first quarter for the Lady Aggies. The Florida State signee converted a 3-point play to give Sylacauga a 5-3 lead. The Lady Aggies scored seven straight points including a jumper from Thomas to increase their lead to 12-3. Nene Bolton drained a 3-pointer to cut the Sylacauga lead to 12-6. Thomas hit a layup with 10 seconds left in the quarter to give Sylacauga a 14-6 going into the second quarter.
Anniston fought their way back in the game in the second quarter. The Lady Bulldogs picked up their defensive intensity and used the long ball to outscore the Lady Aggies 23-8.
Anniston opened the quarter on a 10-2 run, which included back-to-back 3-pointers by Bolton and Marticia Jackson to tie the game up at 16-16 with 4:40 left in the half.
Kiara Pope scored a layup, then came up with a turnover and found Thomas in transition for a layup to put Sylacauga ahead 20-16. Sylacauga took a five-point advantage, 27-22 on a Thomas jumper with 55 seconds left in the half. Anniston closed the quarter out strong with a 7-0 run. Raven Cooley nailed a 3-pointer to cut Sylacauga lead to 27-26 with 28 second left. After forcing a turnover, the Lady Bulldogs held the ball for the final shot. Bolton caught the ball at the top of the key and drained a deep 3-pointer to give Anniston a 29-27 lead at halftime. Thomas scored 21 points in the first half, while Bolton scored 13 points.
“We had a meeting at halftime about that 23-point second quarter,” Crawford said. “We got content and we start settling for shots we don’t take, that is understandable for these girls. We were able to reel them back end at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Lady Aggies buckled down on defense, which helped them spark a 14-4 run. Thomas hit a jumper to give Sylacauga a 37-35 lead. Kayla Dark’s layup off an Anniston turnover gave the Lady Aggies a 39-35 advantage. Tierra Dark capped off the run as she split a pair from the charity strip to give Sylacauga a 44-35 lead. Bolton scored five points, including another 3-pointer to cut the Lady Aggies lead to 46-40 going into the fourth quarter.
Jackson nailed a 3-pointer to cut the Sylacauga lead to 46-43 with 6:18 left in the game. The Lady Bulldogs were able to cut the lead down to two points, twice, but the Lady Aggies were able to make plays when it counted.
Tainiya Garrett was able to break up a lob pass for Bolton into the hands of Thomas who went coast to coast for a layup to make it 48-44 with 3:51 left in the game. Bolton scored in the low post to cut the lead to 48-46 with 3:29 left.
Thomas and the Lady Aggies got it done defensively late in the game. Off a missed Bolton 3-point attempt, which was rebounded by a Lady Bulldog player. Thomas blocked the second-chance opportunity, then she outhustled everyone to get the ball then she was tripped up at midcourt as she was on her way for a layup. The top ranked player in the state of Alabama calmly drained a both free throws to put Sylacauga up 50-46 with 2:16 remaining.
Out of a timeout, Anniston’s Kiyana Bullock was whistled for illegal screen as she tried to free up Bolton with Thomas playing tight man to man defense as she was trying to prevent a 3-point attempt.
Pope knocked down a pair of free throws to give Sylacauga a 52-47 victory.
“It was a tough game,” Anniston head coach Eddie Bullock said. “They made a couple more plays than we did at the end.”
Crawford said the unseasonably warm weather played a factor in the fourth quarter.
“We started cramping with the heat and the humidity in there right now,” Crawford said. “We haven’t played with this type of heat that is in there tonight and it affected us. The girls legs start cramping, we had to fight through it and we fought through it. We had two of them on the court cramping at the same time. We kept them out there and we came out with the victory.”