With the win the Lady Aggies advance to take on Central Tuscaloosa in Central Regional tournament in Montgomery on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
“We came out in the first half and I think we established ourselves,” Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford said. “This was a set up game; what I mean is it is a game where we have already played them twice and both games were tough games. With the weather we could’ve very easily packed it in and we had to overcome some adversity in this game tonight. We had to play through some adversity and our kids responded. In the second half they (Ben Russell) came out on fire. They jumped out on a 9-0 run and we get a time out and to slow them down –they still out score us in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter we were able to go back and play defense like we were capable. We slowed the game up, we were attacking and things were going our way when we were attacking the basket. So I said my God, we have the lead so I am going to slow this game up. We went stall and made them come out and play man for a little bit. We scored four quick points on them and after that they went back to the zone and they were content to sit in that zone and match up at the top. I am extremely proud of this group of seniors that have been with me for a long time and they get an opportunity to play another day. Right now we are 1-0, we are celebrating. These kids are on cloud nine and we will come back to earth on Sunday and Monday we will go down and look forward to see Paul Bryant and see how we are going to do.”
Both teams went back and forth trading baskets in the first quarter. Sylacauga jumped out to a 10-4 lead. Shakayla Thomas got off to a fast start. She scored six early points including a layup off a turnover to make it 10-4. Taniya Garrett scored four points in the first quarter including a layup to make it 12-6 with 4:29 left in the quarter.
Ben Russell responded with a 6-0 run to tie the game at 12-12. Jernika Russell hit a jumper to start the run. Chole Owens got a steal in the back court and took in for a layup to cut to 12-10. A putback off a missed free throw tied the game at 12-12.
Sylacauga responded as they closed out the quarter on a 17-3 run. Thomas scored 11 points of her 17 first quarter points during the run. She started the run at the charity stripe were she drained a pair. Then, Thomas found Tierra Dark streaking down the court for a layup to put Sylacauga up 16-12. The McDonald’s All-American scored five points in less than 20 seconds to increase their lead to 21-12. Tierra Dark drained back-to-back jumpers to close the first quarter to give the Lady Aggies a 29-15 lead going to the second quarter.
In the second quarter, the Lady Aggies continued to oppose their will on Ben Russell on the offensive end of the court. Thomas scored seven points in the second quarter including a layup to give Sylacauga a 39-25 lead. Tierra Dark scored 10 first half points, which included a jumper to make it 41-26. Keria Looney’s putback gave Sylacauga a 43-26 lead going into halftime.
Ben Russell fought their way back into the game in the third quarter. Aaliyah Lawson scored four points during the run including a layup to cut the lead down to 43-33. Owens scored three points, which included a putback to cut the Sylacauga lead down to 43-33.
Kiara Pope ended the Lady Aggies scoring drought as she drove down the lane for a layup. See the ball go through the basket helped Sylacauga pick up their intensity on defense. Tierra Dark came up with a steal close to midcourt and found Thomas for layup.
Thomas ended the quarter with a jumper at the buzzer to give Sylacauga 53-38 lead going to the fourth quarter.
In the final quarter the Lady Aggies increased their lead to 15 points, and then they began to take time off the clock. Sylacauga went 5-5 from the free throw line to increase their lead to 58-42. Thomas finished the game off with back to back baskets to increase their lead to 62-43.
With less than a minute left in the game, Thomas was taken out the game to a loud applause by the Sylacauga faithful. Thomas finished with 39 points in her last home game at Sylacauga High School. Thomas thought that the Lady Aggies played some of the best basketball they have played all season in the first half, but she is nowhere near content with just making it to Alabama State for the third straight season.
“We are not done eating yet,” Thomas said. “We are going to get back to practice on Sunday and half of Monday then head to ASU to show what we got.”
For Destiny Wilson and Taniya Garrett, this was their last time playing in front of their home crowd.
Wilson said it feels good to be going back to Regional tournament.
“It feels good,” Wilson said. “This is something that we have worked towards since this summer. Early morning workouts, we were grinding really hard in the weight room and we were getting better every day. You either get better or worst you never stay the same.”
Garrett believes if they can continue to work hard and stay together they will have a chance of reach their ultimately goal.
“Hard work pays off,” Garrett said. “Our worst opponent is our self; as long as we stay together there is nobody that can stop us. We worked hard all summer and I guess you can say hard work does pay off.”