Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Kyleigh Blackwell drives against Southside’s Kynsey Marble during the Lady Eagles’ 53-46 victory in the Etowah County Schools Tournament girl championship game last Friday (Jan. 22) at Glencoe. (Courtesy of Alex Chaney)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Hokes Bluff girls basketball coach Evan Talbot used one word to describe the reason behind his team’s performance against Southside in the Etowah County Schools Tournament championship game last Friday (Jan. 22) at Glencoe.
The Lady Eagles claimed their first county title in four years with 53-46 victory, a win that Talbot attributed to teamwork and mental toughness.
“All year long, every team across the state is trying to survive another week with all the COVID [concerns] going on. Our girls really bought into our game plan, and it was a total team effort tonight.”
Hokes Bluff led from wire to wire but not by double digits until midway through the third quarter, which ended with the Lady Eagles ahead 32 to 25.
Sydney Yancey’s two free throws at the 6:14 mark of the fourth period drew the Lady Panthers within 35-29, but that turned out to be the highwater mark for Southside, who by that time had committed its 10th foul of the game and put Hokes Bluff in the double bonus free throw situation. Hokes Bluff visited the charity stripe 44 times, making 27 of those attempts (64 percent). Thirty-eight shooting fouls were called during the game.
The Lady Eagles responded to Yancey’s foul shots with a 15 to 2 run, with 13 of those points coming from the charity stripe. Talbot soon went to the motion offense, forcing Southside to foul and send Hokes Bluff to the free throw line. The Lady Eagles went 14 for 18 over the final six minutes, including a 10 for 16 performance by Bailee Latronico that put the game out of reach.
Latronico finished with a game-high 16 points, followed by Kyleigh Blackwell with 12. Hallie Davenport added seven points, while Tournament MVP Maddie Smith chipped in six.
“It’s definitely been different this year with all of the quarantines, but we worked hard through all of it and I think we’re finally hitting our groove,” said Smith. “It’s not like Glencoe, but Southside has always been a big rivalry game for as long as I can remember. You know it’s going to be physical, and we were able to play through that pressure and hit some free throws when we really needed them.”
Ziniah Hardy led Southside with nine points, followed by Lynnsey Hunt with seven and Sydney Yancey with five.
The Hokes Bluff defense was sharp out of the gate, as the Lady Panthers did not score from the field during the first quarter. Meanwhile, a pair of 3-point baskets by Davenport helped give the Lady Eagles an 11-3 lead entering the second period.
A 6-0 spurt cut the Southside deficit to one point, but Hokes Bluff gradually regained breathing room and entered halftime with a 21-15 advantage. The Lady Panthers closed within five points during the third quarter before a basket by Blackwell in the closing seconds made it 32-25 in favor of the Lady Eagles.
Hokes Bluff soon pulled away via the free throw line, giving Talbot his first county championship as a head coach in as many attempts.
“Southside’s a physical team, and it’s always a tough rivalry game,” said Talbot. “We shot 44 free throws, which means a long game physically. [Southside] Coach [Kim] Nails does a great job, and we were just glad that we could match up against them a little bit. I thought we defended the paint well all night long.”
Joining Smith on the all-tournament team were Blackwell, Latronico and Madi Wolfe from Hokes Bluff; Hardy, Sydney Yancey, and Sara Kate Yancey from Southside; Lily Underwood and Jayda Lacks from Sardis; Jaxson Sizemore and Kayla Traylor from Glencoe; Madison Parker from West End; and Tracionna Jones from Gaston.