Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Kristen Shields (20) drives to the basket during the Lady Eagles’ 40-32 victory over Talladega in the Class 4A sub regional girls basketball playoffs last Monday (Feb. 10). (Courtesy of Alex Chaney)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Kristen Shields had no intention of ending her last season of high school basketball on her home court.
With her team clinging to a single digit lead late in the Class 4A sub regional playoffs against Talladega last Monday (Feb. 10), the Hokes Bluff senior visited the free throw line three times down the stretch.
“I was thinking that if I could hit at least one of every two [shots] and we could then make a stop on defense, it would move up the lead little by little,” she said.
Shields ended up making all six attempts over the final 47 seconds to finish off the Lady Tigers and propel Hokes Bluff to a 40-32 victory and a berth in the Northeast Regional Tournament next week at Jacksonville State.
The Lady Eagles (25-8) will face Oneonta in the regional semifinals on Monday (Feb. 17) at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
After building a 17-10 lead midway through the first half, the Hokes Bluff shooters struggled to find their mark. For a stretch of almost 15 minutes that lasted from 6:55 of the second period to 7:11 of the fourth quarter, the hosts did not score from the field.
The Lady Eagles’ extended funk allowed Talladega to remain within striking distance. After Talladega closed within 17-14 at halftime, Kiercin Jackson-Davis’ runner at 3:07 of the third quarter tied the game at 19-19. A pair of free throws from Shields and one by Mackenzie Bates was the extent of Hokes Bluff’s offense in the third period, which ended with the Lady Eagles nursing a 20-19 advantage.
Hokes Bluff finally got into a semi-groove starting out the fourth quarter. Baskets from Madi Wolfe and Jayden Presley kicked off an 8-2 run that made it 28-21 with under four minutes remaining, But Tiona Robertson and Trinity Webb accounted for the next six Talladega points and drew the visitors within 32-28 with just under a minute left. During that same time, the Lady Eagles failed to create a cushion by shooting 6-for-16 at the foul line. Aiyani Heath’s put-back with 30 seconds on the clock narrowed the gap to four points.
Hokes Bluff was in the double-bonus free throw situation by that point, however, and the Lady Tigers were forced to foul Shields, whose perfection at the foul line extended the Lady Eagles’ season by at least one game. Shields shot 80 percent (16-for-20) at the free throw line.
“I thought we played good defense, but we played tight offensively,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Jason Shields. “For the first time all year, it looked like our girls were thinking about what was coming next instead of staying in the moment. Give Talladega credit; they used a 2-3 defense and trapped out on the sides and made us indecisive on offense. I told the girls at halftime that we had to get an eight or 10-point lead so we could spread them out, but we could never get to that point because we weren’t attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line.”
Kristen Shields finished with 22 points, while Maddie Smith added seven and Presley five. Shields grabbed seven rebounds, while Presley cleared five. Mackenzie Bates came up with four steals.
Sparked by two 3-pointers each from Maddie Smith and Kristen Shields, Hokes Bluff rolled out to a 14-10 lead after one quarter.
A free throw and a layup by Kristen Shields made it a seven-point advantage early in the second period before the Lady Eagles’ offense ran out of steam for the next several minutes.
Robertson paced Talladega with 10 points, followed by Webb with nine.
Jason Shields was pleased to have his team back in Jacksonville after a year’s absence. Up until the 2018-19 season, the Lady Eagles qualified for the regional tournament five straight times.
“It’s survive and advance this time of the year. It doesn’t matter what the game looks like as long as you win. Maybe we’ll play better in the next game, because I don’t think we could play any worse offensively than we did tonight.”
“It’s the best feeling in the world that I get to end my senior year going to JSU,” added Kristen Shields. “That’s our goal every year.”