By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Dajia Williams is playing her best basketball of the season, and her Gadsden City High teammates and coaches could not be happier.
The Titans kept feeding her the ball last Saturday (Feb. 9), and each time the junior post player would put the ball in the basket, leading Gadsden City to the Class 6A, Area 9 girls basketball tournament championship with a 52-23 win over Oxford at GCHS.
Gadsden City (21-8) hosts Lee-Huntsville (16-11) in the subregional round on Thursday (Feb. 14).
The area title was the fifth straight for the Titans, and the 6-foot-2 Williams is a big reason for that. The tournament’s Most Valuable Player poured in 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Yellow Jackets.
“We’re definitely playing our best basketball right now,” Gadsden City coach Jeremy Brooks said. “All around, that was a solid performance. [Oxford] actually does have several players that can score, but we just played good assignment basketball and defensively gave them trouble.”
Oxford (11-15) was a surprise opponent in the championship, having knocked off a heavily-favored Clay-Chalkville squad in the tournament semifinals. In the other semifinal game, Gadsden City defeated Pell City, 73-26.
Brooks said the Yellow Jackets’ win in the semis got his team’s attention, and it showed from Saturday night’s opening tip.
“I was really glad we got off to a good start, because they were really coming in here with momentum,” Brooks said. “Defensively, we thought we could do some things that could cause problems.”
Cause problems Brooks’ team did.
The Titans forced four turnovers in the game’s opening minutes, turning the tables on Oxford with their defensive intensity. The Yellow Jackets began the game in a full-court trapping defense that slowed Gadsden City offensively, but after a timeout by Brooks, the Titans made an adjustment that got the team going.
Gadsden City eventually built an 11-3 lead after one quarter, and things got progressively worse for the Yellow Jackets.
The Titans kept up their defensive pressure in the second quarter, forcing six more turnovers. Meanwhile, Williams started getting heated up.
“When they went into a man (defense), it really worked for me, because I was able to step up and get open,” Williams said, with a large smile on her face.
Williams closed the first quarter with a pair of baskets and a free throw. She hit three more shots in the second quarter, finishing the half with 11 points. A couple of the baskets came off offensive rebounds against the undersized Yellow Jackets.
“We tried to front her,” Oxford coach Tonya Peoples said. “They beat us on the board really bad. You can’t have turnovers like we did and you can’t allow a team two or three shots when they’re a good team, and Gadsden (City) is. When you give a team like Gadsden two or three looks each time, or allow them to shoot on the block like they did, you’re behind the eight ball.”
Williams offensive put-backs helped Gadsden City build a 23-10 halftime lead, but she was not alone. Takara Blount capably joined Williams in filling up the stat sheet, scoring eight first-half points.
Williams scored 12 of the Titans first 14 points of the third quarter. Included in that scoring barrage was a one-minute span that effectively ended the game.
With about three minutes left in the quarter, Williams grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball back in the basket while being fouled. Following the whistle, an Oxford player was called for a technical foul. Williams made the free throw off the first foul and proceeded to make both technical free throws.
The technical foul gave possession to the Titans, and Williams made a turn-around jumper in the lane to conclude the possession. Williams’ seven-point trip turned Gadsden City’s large lead into a blowout at 37-12.
“Man-to-man, they went three or four possessions, and we hurt them each time getting the ball inside (to Williams),” Brooks said. “They didn’t really have the post presence to deal with her, and that was a bonus for us tonight.”
The Titans’ Chelsea Knight hit a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining in the third, giving Gadsden City a 39-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Williams made one final basket to open the fourth quarter before Brooks emptied his bench. Still, the Titans outscored the Yellow Jackets 13-6 in the quarter.
Blount finished the game with nine points, while Brooke Burns added six points for Gadsden City.
Jordan Smith led Oxford with six points, while Casmine Copeland and Jasmine Carter each scored four points.
Joining Williams on the Area 9, All-Tournament Team were Gadsden City’s Blount, Burns and Alyah Jackson; Oxford’s Carter, Lexie Higgins and Deanna Clark; Clay-Chalkville’s Kristian Hudson; and Pell City’s Ragen Merryman.