Photo: Glencoe High’s Lauren Cole (15) attempts a jump shot as Pisgah’s Kaylee Vaught (2) defends and Molly Heard (23) looks on during the Lady Yellow Jackets’ 67-53 loss in the Northeast Regional Basketball Tournament Class 3A girls championship game on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Jacksonville State. (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
For the second consecutive season, Class 3A, No. 10 Glencoe’s year ended with a loss to No. 1 Pisgah in the Northeast Regional finals.
The Lady Yellow Jackets (21-9) fell to the defending state champions, 67-53 on Wednesday (Feb. 20) at Pete Mathews Coliseum in Jacksonville, but the game was much closer than the final score indicated.
“I thought we played well,” said Glencoe coach Daniel Cook. “Pisgah is a heck of a team. They are 32-1 and the defending state champion. I believe that’s the best game anyone in the state of Alabama has given them this year.”
Cook and the Lady Jackets used an array of defenses to thwart the Pisgah offense in the first quarter, and Glencoe built a 13-6 lead early in the second quarter. However, the Lady Eagles adjusted and exploded for 21 points in the second frame to take a 27-20 lead into the locker room for halftime.
“They did a good job of switching defenses and keeping us confused,” said Pisgah coach Carey Ellison. “We just weren’t recognizing (the defenses). We’d be ready to attack them in man offense, and they’d be in a matchup zone. Then we’d look for something in the post, and they’ve switch back to a man defense.”
Pisgah finally adjusted to Glencoe’s defenses in the second half, and a plethora of offensive rebounds helped the Lady Eagles score 22 points in the third quarter.
The Lady Jackets trailed 49-39 after a back-and-forth third quarter but cut their deficit to six points on a 3-pointer from Abby Vice with 5:40 left in the game.
Pisgah answered with an 8-0 run, however, including four points from star point guard Annie Hughes. That run gave the Lady Eagles a 60-46 advantage with just over four minutes left in the game. Glencoe couldn’t overcome the deficit in the last few minutes, and Pisgah iced the game from the free throw line.
Hughes was held to nine points on 12 shots in the first half, but the Auburn commitment erupted for 23 of her 32 points in the second half.
“At the end of the day, I think you see why Annie Hughes is going to play at Auburn,” Cook said. “She was just too much for us today.”
“I could’ve done better,” Hughes said. “Obviously, you can always do better. Also, I feel like I stepped up. It was time for me to step up. It was a lot of adversity and I had to do what the team needed. You have to do what it takes for as long as it takes. We needed somebody, and I decided to be that somebody.”
Along with her game-high 32 points, Hughes tallied seven rebounds, three assists and three steals en route to earning MVP honors for the Northeast Regional. She was joined on the team by freshman teammate Molly Heard, who scored 14 points for the Lady Eagles.
Pisgah advances to the Final Four, where the Lady Eagles will take on Prattville Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in the state semifinals in Birmingham.
Pisgah dominated the offensive glass, as the Lady Eagles tallied 19 offensive rebounds to Glencoe’s eight. They also forced 18 Glencoe turnovers, while the Lady Eagles only turned the ball over 10 times. The Lady Jackets shot over 50 percent from the field (20-39), but Pisgah attempted 22 more shots thanks to turnovers and rebounds.
“Nineteen offensive rebounds are a lot, but that’s pretty good compared to most teams we’ve played this year,” said Cook. “That was one of our focuses. You’ve got to out-re-bound them. One of their strengths is offensive rebounds.
“We spent more time yesterday at practice against their pressure and their presses than anything else. I thought we handled that well. There was a lapse here or there.”
Glencoe senior Lauren Cole dominated in the paint in her final game. She scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and made the All-Tournament team. Anna Beth Giles also earned a spot on the team as she scored nine points and dished nine assists.
Aubrey Gray and Abby Vice added eight points apiece for Glencoe. Vice also grabbed seven rebounds.
Cook credited his two seniors – Cole and Cami Zahorscak – for turning the program around and leading Glencoe to three straight appearances at the Northeast Regional Tour-nament.
“Cami and L.C. were on my original team,” Cook said. “They were thrown into the fire. We took some lumps when they were freshmen. We had some games that were really tough for them at that age. But to see them persevere, and to see them go out and have the senior years that they did, I’m really proud of them.”
Both Zahorscak and Cole said they couldn’t have imagined the success they’ve had when they were eighth and ninth graders.
“Whenever we first met (Coach Cook), he was very optimistic, and we were a little skeptical,” said Zahorscak. “I love him as a coach. He really helped us grow.”
Cook said he was proud of the way his team battled and competed throughout the game.
“One of the most difficult things to do is to walk into a dressing room after you’ve lost the last game of the year and try to figure out how to say goodbye to a great group of people who have worked so hard for you and that you love so much,” he said. “I’m so grateful that the Lord gave me the opportunity to coach them.
“This is one of the proudest I’ve been of one of our Glencoe teams. We didn’t back down. I thought our girls took it to them, and I’m just really proud of how we played today.”