By Joshua Price
Hokes Bluff used a third quarter surge to defeat visiting Piedmont in Class 3A Northeast Sub-Regional girls basketball action on Feb. 16, 50-40. The win advanced the tenth-ranked Lady Eagles to the Regional tournament at Jacksonville State University next week.
“Our girls believe they can win,” Hokes Bluff head coach Jason Shields said. “We didn’t talk about anything negative at halftime from the first half. We made a few adjustments that worked out. We had to work to get Malory [Moland] at the top of the key and get Savannah [Ward] on the baseline.
The strategy worked.
The Lady Eagles erased a 19-15 halftime deficit with a 18-0 run to start the third quarter.
Ward tied the game, 19-19, at the 6:55 mark of the third quarter. Hannah Evans’ 3-pointer moments later gave the Lady Eagles their first lead of the game with a 3-point shot that brought the enormous Hokes Bluff crowd to its feet.
Piedmont called a timeout, but the players were unable to stop the Lady Eagles offensive attack.
Moland netted consecutive 3-pointers en route to 10 third quarter points and the Lady Eagles commanded a 39-26 lead heading into the final frame.
Piedmont scored often in the final five minutes of the game, but could never trim the deficit suffered in the third quarter.
“The third quarter flip-flopped the game,” Hokes Bluff head coach Jason Shields said. “We stopped them from penetrating the lane in the second half and we attacked the basket more, which produced quick points for us.”
Hokes Bluff missed numerous layups and open shots from the perimeter at the beginning of the game and trailed 6-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Hokes Bluff rallied in the second quarter, with all five starters netting a basket.
Shields was quick to point to the size of the Piedmont players and their sound defensive play in the opening quarter.
“Those girls are [taller] and quicker than us and that kept our guards in check. Their size altered our shots in the first quarter. They play good, fundamental man-to-man defense and are well-coached in what they do.”
Shields equally praised the Eagles’ defensive effort, which held the athletic Bulldogs to six points in the first quarter.
“We played great defense tonight,” Shields said. “Those girls were longer and could leap. To give up the size we gave up we did a great job. Our defense picks up our offense and it ignited us tonight.”
Summer Wilson and Evans led Hokes Bluff with 13 points each, while Moland followed with 12. Evans scored all of her points in the second half.
Carlie Shields and Ward each netted five points for the Lady Eagles.
Shields pointed to Moland as the major factor of the third quarter surge.
“Malory was huge in the second half. We finally figured out that they were helping off of her. We worked to get her open and she knocked the shots down. We wanted to get Savannah on the baseline, roll our shooters to the top of the key and find Malory open. We knew we had to isolate Savannah in the second half, which Malory benefited from.”
Ward said the Lady Eagles were never intimidated and was focused on finishing Piedmont off in the second half.
“We knew we had to come out and take good shots in the second half,” Ward said. “We started hitting some quick layups in the third quarter and that opened up our outside shots. Malory and Hannah knocked them down for us.”
Ward is proud of the team reaching the Regional tournament.
“It’s an awesome feeling, the greatest feeling ever. We made it to Sub-Regionals my freshman year. I am really glad we are getting the opportunity to go to the Regionals this year. The crowd was amazing! It was such a great feeling to run out from the locker room before the game and see all those people in the stands supporting us. It is such a great feeling.”
Shields praised the Hokes Bluff community for its support this season.
“Hokes Bluff has always been a great place to play sports. Everyone always comes out and supports the teams and that is very much appreciated. We only lost one home game this year and that shows how tough it is to come here and play.”
Ward said the key to the Eagles success this year is team unity.
“We always give it 100 percent in games and in practice. We are all best of friends and we can criticize each other without hurting anybodys feelings. We just came out in the second half ready to play. We agreed that we have to give it all and refuse to lose.”
Hokes Bluff will face either Madison Academy, Saks or Pisgah at Pete Matthews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University on Feb. 22.