Photo: Southside High’s Maci Williams (center) attempts a shot as Scottsboro’s Abby Jones (32) and Emily Garner (40) defend during the Lady Panthers’ 62-47 loss in the Class 5A Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals last Monday (Feb. 16) at Jacksonville State. (Gary Wells)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Southside High girls basketball team fulfilled a goal last Monday (Feb. 16) at Jacksonville State.
The Lady Panthers participated in a Northeast Regional semifinal for the first time in school history, and although Southside came up short against Scottsboro by a score of 62-47, head coach Kim Nails was proud of her team’s accomplishment.
“From the time this group was in middle school, they were competitors,” said Nails. “[Seniors] Lauren [Hunt], Maci [Williams], Alexis [Thompson] and Kenzi [Duncan] came in with a competitive heart and wanted to accomplish something great for this program. I thought we had the capability to move on [to the regional finals] but we knew that everything had to fall just right for us today. We needed to take care of the ball a little bit better at times, but if you haven’t been in this type of playoff situation, sometimes you get a little sidetracked if things don’t go like you planned.”
Southside (20-6) led by as many as four points late in the first half and trailed at halftime by only 25-22. But the Lady Wildcats began to dominate under the boards in the second half, particularly at the offensive end. A great many of the Lady Panthers’ possessions in the third quarter were one-and-dones, and an 11-2 run by Scottsboro placed Southside in a double-digit deficit at 36-26.
“Offensive rebounds are a lot about ‘want to,’ and when we got down, it kind of zapped some of that energy you need to go get them,” said Nails. “We gave up easy offensive boards, and you can’t give a team like [Scottsboro] multiple chances at the basket.”
Savannah Nunn’s basket with a minute and half remaining in the third quarter narrowed the gap to nine points, but a three-pointer from Emily Garner with under a minute to go and a layup by Allie Scott in the finals seconds made it a 46-32 Scottsboro advantage heading into the final frame.
Southside never again got within striking distance. Scottsboro (23-10) opened the fourth quarter with a 13-0 run and led by as many as 22 points down the stretch.
“Basketball is a game of momentum, and sometimes when you get down you have to find an inner gear to push you to fight back through,” said Nails. “We just weren’t able to do that today.” Southside was also hampered by foul trouble. Williams and Kaylee Brown both played with three fouls through much of the second half, while Thompson was whistled for her fourth early in the final period.
“We knew all year that there were some things we had to avoid in order to be successful, and one of those things was foul trouble. We just couldn’t afford for that to happen with some of our key players. In this situation, you have to keep your players on the floor at all times.”
Neither team shot well from the field (38 percent for Southside and 43 percent for Scottsboro) but the Lady Wildcats finished with an 80 percent (16-for-20) to 41 percent (7-for-17) advantage at the free throw line.
Williams paced the Lady Panthers with 15 points, followed by Thompson with 11. Duncan added nine points, while Nunn chipped in six. Thompson grabbed nine rebounds, followed by Williams with eight and Nunn with seven. Thompson and Brown had five and four assists, respectively.
Keara Sexton scored a game-high 19 points, followed by Garner with 18. Sexton also distributed seven assists.
Garner knocked down three of her four 3-point baskets in the first quarter to help provide the Lady Wildcats with a 15-10 lead.
“We knew that [Keara Sexton] and [Garner] were great players,” said Nails. ‘[Scottsboro] has several other good shooters that compliment them, but those two make that team go.”
Southside fought back, however. Thompson banked in a three-pointer and Duncan hit a jump shot midway through the second period to cap an 11-2 run and give the Lady Panther a 21-17 edge. But those baskets turned out to be Southside’s last field goals of the first half, and Scottsboro closed out the second quarter with an 8-1 spurt.
Lynnsey Hunter’s bucket in the first minute of the second half kept the Lady Panthers within four points, but the Jackson County squad gradually pulled away from that point on. Bell poured in nine of her 12 points during the third quarter as Southside was outscored 21-10.
Senior Lauren Hunt, the team’s leading scorer until an ACL injury in late December cut her season short, entered the game with 13 seconds left and was able to attempt a shot.
“Lauren’s goal has always been to carry her team to JSU,” said Nails. “We wanted to get her that opportunity today, and it was very special for her to be able to do that.”
“After Lauren got hurt, we made it our goal to do our best for her and make it to JSU,” added Duncan.
“We all felt like we had to step it up after Lauren got hurt, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Williams. “We’re proud to say that we made school history, and it especially means a lot being a senior.”