Photo: Sardis High’s Saydi Rutledge (right) guards Guntersville’s Brylee Hill during the Lady Lions’ 42-12 loss in the Class 5A Northeast Regional Tournament girls basketball championship on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Jacksonville State. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Hampered by poor shooting and an extraordinary performance by Guntersville point guard Olivia Vandergriff, the Sardis High girls basketball team was hoping for a momentum-changing play at some point late in the first half against Guntersville on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
That swing never happened, as the Lady Lions suffered a 42-12 loss in the Northeast Regional Tournament finals at Jacksonville State.
Sardis shot 13.3 percent (4-for-30) from the field, including 0-for-11 from three-point range. The Lady Lions managed just one field goal in the second half – Kaylen Wallace’s put-back that cut the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 22-12 midway through the third quarter. Guntersville out-scored Sardis 20-0 the rest of the way.
“If one three-pointer goes in [during] the second quarter, I think it would have been a completely different ball game,” said Sardis head coach Heath Cullom. “But we just couldn’t get that big shot when we needed it. We got some looks; we just couldn’t get one to fall. We just couldn’t get anything positive to happen to get the momentum going our way. Then we got overwhelmed on the second half. Some of [Guntersville’s] girls who hadn’t been making shots made shots, [which] killed any chance of our comeback.”
Vandergriff, who was named tournament MVP, eclipsed Sardis’ point total for the game by the final seconds of the first half. She finished with 28 points, including an 8-for-12 effort from the free throw line. She also had seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“Give credit to Guntersville and coach [Kenny] Hill. They did a great job. I really think [Guntersville] will go on and win the state championship; I don’t know of anyone who can beat them. Olivia’s a heck of a player, and if I’m a college coach, I’m all over that girl.”
It was a different story for Sardis senior point guard Belle Trammell, who for the second straight game got into early foul trouble. She went to the bench at the 6:14 mark of the first quarter after being whistled for her third foul and did not return until the final seconds of the first half. During Trammell’s absence, the Lady ‘Cats outscored Sardis 17-7, putting the Lady Lions in a 19-8 hole at halftime.
Jayda Lacks was Sardis’ high scorer with three points. She also pulled down nine rebounds.
A pair of free throws by Vandergriff with three seconds remaining in the third period provided Guntersville with a 28-12 lead.
The Lady Lions had no answer for Vandergriff during the fourth quarter, as she scored 12 of her team’s 14 points during the final eight minutes.
Sardis junior guard Caroline Johnson was named to the all-tournament team.
“Nobody expected us to get this far,” she said. “We surpassed our goal, actually, so I’m proud of how far we came. I think we did what we came here to do. I’ll never forget this team.”
Sardis ended the season with a program-best 27-8 record while winning its first county and area tournaments and advancing to the regionals for the first time.
“I’ve coached this team since they were little bitty kids, so this one will take a lot to get over,” said Collum. “Guntersville has zero seniors, so it’s going to go through them again. We’ve got our work cut out for us in the offseason. We’ll remember this moment and find a way to respond. One day we’ll get over this hump, and we’ll be the ones celebrating.”
Cullom had special praise for his senior class of Trammell, Saydi Rutledge, Lily Towns, Emma Guthrie, Madi Layfield and daughter McKenzie.
“We’ll never be able to replace that group,” he said. “As long as I’m at here, I’m never going to let Sardis forget this team. They’re going to be the foundation group of what I’m trying to build here.”