With the win the Lady Aggies advance to the Final 48 in Birmingham. This is their first trip in the Final Four since 1998. Sylacauga will play the winner between Brewer and Arab on Thursday in the Class 5A semifinals.
“It is a great day for Lady Aggie basketball,” Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford said. “It has been a long time coming- it has been since 1998. It is something that we talked about for a long time positioning ourselves to get back to Birmingham to be one of the Final Four teams. We are extremely proud today to be back in Birmingham. We came close last year, we fell a little short. The year before that I thought we were in the mix when Shakayla was a 10th grader and we came up short against (Central Tuscaloosa). We are proud of the kids.”
Going into the game Crawford knew it was going to close ball game that came down to the wire and it did. The contest featured 15 lead changes and nine ties.
Sylacauga (28-3) trailed 44-41 going into the final period., but regained the lead within the first minute of the quarter of free throws by Tiera Dark and Thomas to take a 45-44 lead with 7:19 left in the quarter.
Jerlissia Matthews gave Central the lead back with a layup to make it 46-45.
Thomas responded for with a layup to make it 47-46.
Lawanda Maddix tied the game at 47-47 with 5:21 left in the game as she split a pair of the free throw.
The McDonalds All-American continued to attack the basket as she hit a layup to put Sylacauga ahead 49-47 with 4:47 remaining.
Jerlissia Matthews answered as she scored three points including a layup to regain the lead for the Lady Falcons, 51-49.
Thomas split a pair of free throws to cut the lead down 51-50 with 2:20 left in the game.
Sylacauga picked up their defensive intensity and they were able to create a turnover. Kayla Dark had five steals in the game including one she took in for a layup to give the Lady Aggies a 52-51 lead with 2:29 left in the game.
Thomas then came up huge on the defensive end of the court as she saved two points as she rejected a layup attempt out of bounds with 1:54 left in the game.
The Lady Aggies went 21-38 from the free throw for the game, but down the stretch they made clutch free throws.
Tiera Dark drained a pair of free throws with 1:33 left in the game to increase their lead to 54-51.
Thomas, who scored 10 of her 38 points in the fourth quarter, knocked down a pair of free throws to give Sylacauga 56-51 lead with 1:07 left in the game.
“Big time players show up in big time ball games,” Thomas said. “I was sitting back and letting my team go to work in the first half, then when I felt it was my turn I stepped up and did what I had to do to lead us to a victory. It was a team thing.”
Matthews made it a one possession game with a jumper to cut the lead to 56-53.
With 13.8 left in the game Tiera Dark went to the line for what maybe the biggest free throws of her career. The freshman guard missed the first free throw, but hit the second one to increase their lead to 57-53. Tiera Dark finished with 12 points.
The Lady Aggies pressed after a Central Tuscaloosa timeout. Sylacauga forced a jump ball with 5.3 seconds left in the game at half court, which gave the Lady Falcons to miss a 3-pointer as time expired.
Thomas, who earned MVP of the Class 5A Central Regional Tournament, said falling short to Valley last season motivated her this season.
“Last year, I was a little hunger, but this year I am starving,” Thomas said. “I feel the need to just go get it.”
Foul trouble plagued an aggressive Central Tuscaloosa team the entire game. The Lady Falcons had two players to foul out and four other players to record four fouls.
Central Tuscaloosa head coach Michael Rivers said he is proud that his players played all the way to the end of the game.
He also said he is happy that Thomas will not be around next season.
“I have enjoyed it the three times that we played against her,” Rivers said. “It is one of those things that bring out the best in your team and her team, but like I said I would rather see her moving on than staying, because she is something to deal with. A lot of times when they say she is the best player this and that I’ve seen a lot of them that didn’t measure up, but she is definitely the best player in the state without a doubt hands down. The girl is athletic, she can handle the ball, and she can rebound. She does whatever the team asks of her. To me to be such a star she don’t seem to be selfish. She don’t seem like one of those kids that demand and ask for the ball all the time. She will play with the ball, she will play without the ball, she will facilitate when needed. She is just one of those rare players you see every now and then.”