Lady Tigers B’Ham bound

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, February 26, 2013

DOTHAN — Getting off to a dominant start and focusing on the task at hand gave Straughn what it’s been looking for since 1996 — another trip to play in the Final 48 in Birmingham.

The Lady Tigers built a 17-5 lead after the first period over Opp, and held on late to beat the Lady Bobcats 48-41 to win the Class 3A South Regional Championship at the Dothan Civic Center.

SHS coach Scott Kinsaul, emotional from the win, said his team’s hard work and determination granted the school a berth to play in the state semifinals this week.

“It’s a dream,” Kinsaul said about going to state. “It’s something that we’ve worked on starting in the summer going to camp with weights at 7 in the morning, and shooting afterward. I’m so proud of these girls and what they’ve accomplished.”

Kinsaul made sure to give credit where credit was due.

“Opp’s a great team,” he said. “(OHS) Coach (SaRhonda) Dickerson does a great job with them. We’re just so fortunate to beat them.”

With this victory, the Lady Tigers improve to 32-2 overall and advance to play Holly Pond in the state semifinals of the Final Four at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex on Wednesday at 3 p.m.

This victory ends a stretch of five games between Straughn and Opp this season. SHS won the series, 5-0.

Straughn leading-scorer and tournament Most Valuable Player Brittany Driver, led the Lady Tigers with 22 points. Katelyn Kinsaul backed her teammate up with 11 points.

Opp’s Saquaya Lane and Nisha Stoudemire, along with Straughn’s Katelyn Kinsaul and Jacie Williamson, also were selected to the All-Regional Tournament team.

Katelyn said she’s excited about going to the state finals.

“We’re ready to go,” she said.

Driver said it’s been a life-long dream for her to be playing in Birmingham.

“We’re really blessed,” Driver said. “Really blessed.”

For Opp, the Lady Bobcats dug themselves in a first-period hole they didn’t seem to recover from until the second half.

Despite trailing 30-16 at halftime, the Lady Bobcats outscored Straughn 25-18 in the second half, fueled by quick transition.

In the end though, OHS never quit, the Lady Bobcats coach said.

“These girls have a lot of passion and a lot of drive,” Dickerson said. “They fought to the very end. I’m very proud of how they fought back. They stared adversity right in the face and that never hurt us.

“We only scored five in that first quarter, and that really hurt us,” she said. “For them to fight back was really tough.”

After Straughn led 17-5 going into the second period, Opp went on to outscore the Lady Tigers 36-31 for the next three periods.

Late in the second period when all hope was gone, Opp suffered what it thought was going to be a huge loss.

Stoudemire went for a loose ball, tripped over Driver’s foot and came back up in an awkward way with her knee.

After halftime, the senior Bobcat ran out of the gate and propelled the team on its final effort in the second half.

“When I hit the floor, I wasn’t crying because (my knee) was hurting, I was crying because I hit the floor,” Stoudemire said. “I wasn’t going to sit out (for the second half).”

At the start of the game, Driver got the scoring going off of a nice pass from Paige Taylor after a rebound.

SHS took a 4-0 lead when Williamson made two-out-of-three free throws with 5:48 left.

Katelyn later got a steal and found herself at the free-throw line after Lane picked up her second foul of the game.

Opp got on board with 3:40 left to go in the first on a Stoudemire jump shot.

Turnovers continued to plague OHS in the first period.

With 2:29 left in the opening period, Driver made the front-end of a 1-and-1, got the rebound and tried for the shot, but missed. From there, Taylor Wood, a fellow senior, picked up the slack and was fouled. Wood made one free throw and SHS led 9-2

The Lady Tigers received a big boost from Janelle Nurse from the bench. Nurse got a jumper to go and later got an easy bucket after a Katelyn steal on the defensive end, to give SHS a 13-2 advantage.

Asia Edwards gave Opp its fifth point of the first period off of a rebound and layup with time ticking away.

Williamson started the second period with a 3-pointer, and Nurse later added a trey of her own to bring Straughn’s lead to 23-7 with 4:51 left on the clock.

Opp cut it to 25-15 later in the second after Edwards made a 1-and-1.

On an OHS offensive possession, Katelyn got a steal and fast break along with a 3-pointer to put SHS away for good 30-15 with less than 40 seconds left in the first half.

Free had the hot hand from the start of the second half, draining back-to-back 3-pointers to start the Lady Bobcats’ second-half push.

Straughn led 35-22 after a 3-point play by Driver with 6:11 left.

Stoudemire then hit a big 3-pointer to bring the game to 35-25 with 5:02 on the clock.

Throughout the third, Williamson found Driver in the paint and the senior fought for buckets, increasing her team’s chance at the win. Additionally, Driver found an opening the length of the court late in the contest to increase the Lady Tigers’ lead.

Driver said it could’ve been anybody else on the team who made plays when needed.

“I knew that we had to get things going and calm everybody down,” she said. “Usually, when I’m calm, everybody’s calm and when I’m frustrated, everybody else is frustrated. I have to keep myself in check. It could’ve been anybody to step it up in the end.”

Opp cut it to 43-32 after the third period, thanks to a nice Savannah Gerber steal and Free layup on the offensive end.

Stoudemire and Edwards went on to foul out in the fourth period, and Taylor made a big steal with less than 47 seconds left to seal the win after the Lady Tigers ran the clock out.

Free led OHS with 17 points. Stoudemire chipped in 13 points.

Kinsaul gave kudos to the great crowd that traveled for the game by pumping them up after the game.

“We did what we needed to do to win the basketball game,” the Straughn coach said. “I was a little disappointed there with our free-throw shooting at the end of the game, but we built up enough of a lead to withstand that. All of the credit goes to the girls. They’ve played so hard and played so smart. I’m just so proud of them.”

Opp finished its successful season 21-5.