Photo: Hokes Bluff High’s Kristen Shields (left) drives against Madison Academy’s Jasmine Gracie during the Lady Eagles’ 52-26 loss in the Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals on Monday (Feb. 19) at Jacksonville State. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Class 4A, No. 6 Hokes Bluff fell behind early and couldn’t catch up to second-ranked Madison Academy in a 52-26 loss in the Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals on Monday (Feb. 19) at Pete Matthews Coliseum in Jacksonville.
The Lady Eagles (22-9) struggled offensively from the start and finished the game making only 9 of their 42 field goal attempts (21.4 percent). The Lady Mustangs started the game on a 10-2 run and led 14-7 after the first quarter.
Hokes Bluff trailed 28-13 at halftime and started to get in a rhythm offensively in the third quarter. Kristen Shields and Logan Black each hit 3-pointers to close the gap, but every time the Lady Eagles started to make a run, Madison Academy responded with a bucket on the other end as the Lady Mustangs took a 37-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
Senior forward Amanda Noah entered the game as Hokes Bluff’s primary offensive threat, but Madison Academy used its size advantage to force the ball out of Noah’s hands for most of the game. Noah finished with five points and six rebounds in her final game as a Lady Eagle.
“The biggest thing was them being able to lock on to Amanda and make other people score,” said Hokes Bluff coach Jason Shields. (With) our athleticism, we can’t lock on as much. We have to play gaps. Gaps sometimes get you out of position where you give up offensive rebounds.”
Hokes Bluff actually outrebounded Madison Academy 32-31 despite the absence of senior forward Kelsee Otwell, who tore her ACL in practice before the team’s sub-regional win at North Jackson. But the Lady Mustangs had a massive advantage on the inside as they outscored the Lady Eagles 26-12 in the paint.
“We didn’t do a good job of boxing out,” Shields said. “When we helped up, they got some easy shots they were able to finish on. I don’t think it was anything other than we got out-athleted a little bit. We usually hold people in mid-40s. That’s not too much of a difference. We just couldn’t score.”
The Lady Eagles also allowed 16 points off of turnovers and were only able to generate five points off of Madison Academy turnovers.
Kristen Shields led Hokes Bluff with 14 points and five rebounds. She was the only Hokes Bluff player to reach double figures, as the Lady Eagles were held to single digits in every quarter.
Halia Morris led all scorers with 16 points for Madison Academy while also grabbing seven rebounds. Jaden Langford scored 11 points and recorded eight rebounds for the Lady Mustangs.
Hokes Bluff’s senior class – including Noah, Otwell, Logan Black and Margaret Wetzel – won 100 games over the last four years and made the regionals at Jacksonville State in all four seasons. They won three county championships and three area championships over the last four years.
“When you win 25 games for four years, that’s pretty good,” Shields said. “It’s pretty consistent, and they’ve done that.”
Noah said playing for Shields has taught her so much on and off the court.
“It’s helped me become a better person and deal with situations in life,” Noah said.
Shields said he is proud of what his group accomplished this year and over the last four years.
“They’ve put their time in,” he said. “That’s what basketball or any sport is about. It’s about the reward of putting in the effort and getting the results. Not everyone can win that last game… It’s about relationships.
“You don’t want to ever see them go, but life goes on. We all deal with that. We all deal with things that happen to us. It’s how you respond to that.”