Photo: Southside High’s Kaylee Brown (12 shoots over Etowah’s Shy’ere Gibbs during the Lady Panthers’ 46-31 victory in the Class 5A, Area 12 championship game on Wednesday (Feb. 6). (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Southside built an early first quarter lead and never looked back as the Lady Panthers sprinted past Etowah, 46-31, to clinch the Class 5A, Area 12 championship on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at SHS.
Southside (18-5) extended its area championship streak to three straight seasons. The lady Panthers will host the loser of the Center Point/Springville area championship in the sub-regional playoffs on Monday, Feb. 11. If Southside wins, the Lady Panthers will advance to the Northeast Regional Tournament for the first time in school history.
Etowah (4-22) will travel to the winner of the Center Point/Springville matchup for its sub-regional contest.
Southside led 14-5 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 26-12 at the half. The Lady Blue Devils didn’t have many opening looks offensively in the first half, and Southside forced several turnovers to stymie Etowah’s offense.
“I felt like we played really good defense in the first half, and that set the tone early,” said Southside coach Kim Nails. “That gave us a little cushion going into the second half.”
To start the second half, Southside junior Savannah Nunn hit a layup and buried a 3-pointer. Macie Williams added a bucket to extend the lead to 21, which forced Etowah head coach Jim Bogle to call a timeout to settle his team down.
The Lady Blue Devils battled back to cut the lead to 35-19 at the end of the third quarter and trimmed the margin to 12 late in the fourth. However, Southside connected on nine free throws in the final frame to prevent a late Etowah rally.
Nunn submitted perhaps her best performance of the season in amassing a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow junior Kaylee Brown scored 12 points.
Macie Williams added 11 points and snagged nine rebounds, while Alexis Thomson and Kenzi Duncan chipped in six points apiece. Thompson also added six assists, five rebounds and three steals as she earned All-Tournament honors alongside Williams and Nunn.
“We’re very fortunate and blessed to be here,” Nails said. “You can never take these wins for granted, because when you’re in the postseason, everybody is 0-0. So, every game you have to show up. You have to approach as a one-and-done game. We’re glad we’re in the position that we were in. Etowah does a really good job. It was a good game for us.”
The significance of Monday’s sub-regional game certainly isn’t lost on Nunn, who said playing in Jacksonville has been the team’s goal all season.
“It’s all we talk about,” Nunn said. “From the beginning of the year until now, that’s been our focus.”
Both Nails and Nunn stressed the importance of defense and credited the team’s defensive performance as the catalyst to its success.
“Our defense is what gets us into the game,” Nunn said. “That’s what controls the game. We have to play hard and stay focused.”
Nails said she wants her to team to value every possession on both ends of the floor.
“Every game we’ve tried to get them to buy in to treasure every possession like it’s the last,” she said. “If we would do that offensively, defensively, every possession even at practice as we’re preparing, then you’ll approach everything differently and very focused. I think that’s where we’ve got to be going into this. We have to be very focused and take care of every possession.”
Za’nya McKenzie and Shy’ere Gibbs made the All-Tour-nament team for Etowah. McKenzie led the Lady Blue De-vils with 11 points, while Abbagile Martin added nine.
Bogle said he is proud of the way his team battled both during the game and throughout the season. He said he’s excited for the opportunity to play in a sub-regional game with the chance to go to Jacksonville.
“On Dec. 6, I got the job,” he said. “We just tried to come in and teach them how to shoot and the basics. We tried to put in some good offenses. They’re down and they’re still fighting. They play hard. That says a lot for the kids – just their effort. It’s just amazing. They never gave up. Our girls are just fighting because that’s all they know. There are some things we can fix, and they’re learning.
“The biggest thing is that we need to quit running plays and we need to play basketball. We have to catch it and look at the basket. We’re going to spend a lot of time shooting.”
Nunn, Thompson, Williams and Duncan also made the All-Area team for the season. Three players from Etowah made the team, including McKenzie, Martin and Z’Niya Manning.
Etowah defeated Alexandria, 46-40, in the tournament semifinals last Monday (Feb. 4).