Lady Tigers never quit

Published 12:01 am Friday, February 28, 2014

Straughn’s Paige Taylor recorded eight defensive rebounds Thursday in the Class 3A state semifinals.

Straughn’s Paige Taylor recorded eight defensive rebounds Thursday in the Class 3A state semifinals.

BIRMINGHAM — Straughn didn’t quit in the end.

That was the case Thursday as the second-ranked Lady Tigers fell 45-23 to Lauderdale County in the Class 3A state semifinals at the BJCC Arena.

All season long, SHS battled throughout the regular season and cruised through the regional rounds until ultimately coming up short against the two-time defending state champions.

Top-ranked LCHS took a commanding 41-20 lead with 5:45 left in the fourth period to squash any hope SHS had at any chance of coming back.

SHS coach Scott Kinsaul said the girls didn’t quit in the end.

“I’m proud of them for what they’ve done this year,” Kinsaul said. “As we’ve said all year, they’ve got the heart of a champion, and I still believe that. They wouldn’t quit no matter how much they got down. The bench players would quit; they kept them (the starters) up.
“That’s something that’s not in any of these girls’ vocabulary — is quitting,” he said.

Straughn kept things pretty close in the first period after coming back from an early 5-0 deficit to cut it to two at 8-6 going into the second period.

Even though LCHS shot 20 percent from the field, the defending state champions managed to go on a 13-2 run to lead 21-8 at halftime.

LCHS coach Brent Llewellyn said it was uncommon for his girls to miss so many shots in in the second period, adding that Straughn’s defense quelled the fire a bit.

“It felt like there was a lid on the rim,” Llewellyn said about the second period. “I don’t think we’ve missed that many layups in a 10-game stretch than we did in the first half. We talked about it a little bit at halftime. Sometimes, when that happens and you miss shots, you can let it get to your head a little bit.”

At the mid-way point of the third period, SHS fought back to go on a short run to cut the game to nine at 25-16, thanks to Jacie Williamson’s 3-pointer and two free shots made after getting fouled low off of a Katelyn Kinsaul assist.

What helped spur the 6-0 run was an early and good effort by SHS center Paige Taylor, who grabbed a couple steals and helped convert on the other end. Taylor found Williamson for a layup and their team trailed 23-11 at that point.

But, LCHS started doing what it did the entire game — press on defense and get a bucket on the fast break.

Ivy Wallen — one of a set of triplets — found 6-2 center Makayla Liles under the basket and LCHS led 27-16 to start pulling away again. Chatara Cox then drove from one end to the other off a SHS turnover and the lead spread to 29-16.

Kinsaul later found Williamson for a layup and a 31-18 score, and Brentley Armstrong got a jumper to cut it to 33-20.

Ella Wallen then got a good transition pass to Liles for a last-second shot to give LCHS a 35-20 margin going into the fourth.

Kinsaul said the big lead that Lauderdale County took in the third was a result of its pressure.

“When you’re constantly having to turn around and see somebody in your face, it wears on you mentally more than it does physically,” Kinsaul said. “I thought there were a couple times where we had a chance to cut the lead even more, maybe down to seven or six, but something would happen and we’d turn it over or miss a shot, and then they went down and laid it up to build the lead back up.”

The transition game, along with its press, allowed LCHS to take its 41-20 lead to start the fourth period on a 6-0 run.

Ella Wallen dished a 3-pointer for a 44-21 lead with 3:29 left in the game.

Straughn could’ve folded and let LCHS run over them at the tail end, but it didn’t give up.

Kinsaul got a steal at half court with less than three minutes remaining to help ignite the faithful in the crowd.

LCHS’s big run in the second period was helped by a plethora of unusually missed shots by SHS. For the game, SHS shot 7-for-33 from the field, and 1-for-7 from the 3-point line.

When asked what Lauderdale County was doing to frustrate the team, Williamson said the normal shots didn’t land in the basket.

“Lauderdale County is a great team,” she said. “They played hard. Some shots weren’t falling like we wanted them to.”

Earlier in the first period, LCHS got ahead 5-0 on a rebound and putback from Liles with 5:47 on the clock.

Straughn got on board after Armstrong got a steal and an assist to Williamson, who was fouled. The junior forward made the front-end of a pair and ended up going 6-for-8 from the line. Her team finished 8-for-12 for the game.

Williamson got a pull-up jumper to cut it to 5-3 with 3:30 left. Taylor then got an assist from Williamson and made a free throw to get it to 6-4.

Liles drove the lane on LCHS’s next possession for an 8-4 advantage.

Williamson then drove the lane for a layup and cut the game to 8-6.

Janelle Nurse, who was quiet on the offensive end, got a good block on Liles on the other end with 42 seconds left.

Late in the second period, Cox made a 1-and-1 to bring the game to 21-8 with 3:06 left.

Williamson led SHS with 17 points and 10 rebounds for a double double. Taylor had eight rebounds, Kinsaul scored two points and Nurse had six rebounds.

Cox led LCHS with 14 points. Liles had 13.

Straughn ended its successful season 28-2 and on a 26-game win streak. It made its second straight appearance in the Final 48 Championships, and returns four starters from this year’s team for the 2014-15 season.

Kinsaul said the girls put a lot of work into getting ready for the season.

“These girls have done everything that I’ve asked them to do,” Kinsaul said. “They’ve made every workout and every practice. You don’t get that by not having a work ethic. I want this season and the season we had last year; if everybody can understand that hard work leads to good things. We’ve always said just because you always work hard, it doesn’t guarantee you a championship or a trip to Birmingham. We know if we don’t work hard, we’re not going to get here.”

Taylor may have said it best when she lent her thoughts on the Lady Tigers’ season.

“It’s a tough loss,” Taylor said. “You don’t want your season to end like that, but we did have a very good season. I’m proud of the way we continued to win and continued to not quit.
“It was a long season, but it was very fun and hopefully we’ll be here next year,” she said.