Photo: Southside’s Madison Shaw (23) attempts a shot between teammate Graceanne Rose and Moody’s Emma Kyle during the Lady Panthers’ 54-31 victory in the Class 5A subregional playoffs last Monday (Feb. 13). (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For only the second time in school history, the Southside High girls basketball team will play a game during the third weekend of February.
Last Monday (Feb. 13), the Lady Panthers dominated from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer in a 54-31 victory over Moody in the Class 5A subregional playoffs, in the process earning a berth in the Northeast Regional Tournament for the first time since the 2018-19 season. Eighth-ranked Southside (23-7) will face No. 1 Guntersville this Friday (Feb. 17) at 12 p.m. at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Southside’s pressure defense kept the Lady Blue Devils on their heels all night, as the Lady Panthers forced 23 turnovers for the game.
“Just based off our game and plan and what we saw on film, we wanted to apply a lot of pressure from the jump and get [Moody] pretty worked up,” said Southside head coach Justin Bowen.
“Our girls were able to trap them and create a lot of chaos, which made [Moody] play a little bit faster than I think they wanted to. We didn’t finish around the rim as well as I would have liked, but we got a lot of rebounds and did a good job of finding open girls and attacking the basket.”
The visitors turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter alone. Madison Shaw and Sarakate Yancey each knocked down two 3-point baskets as the Lady Panthers raced out to a 17-10 lead after eight minutes. Shaw finished with a game-high 17 points while forcing five turnovers and tipping five passes.
“We knew that [Moody] would play a 1-3-1 [defense], so we wanted to swing the ball as much as we could and make them have to move around,” said Bowen. “Eventually that opened up some shots for us.”
Mallory Brooks’ 3-point basket two minutes into the second period provided Southside with a double-digit lead it would not relinquish, and Yancey’s trey with 19 seconds left in the first half sent the Lady Panthers into the break ahead 32-18.
Moody never got within 16 points in the second half. Southside took a 42-26 lead into the fourth quarter, during which the Lady Blue Devils managed only four points. Southside held Moody scoreless for a stretch of five minutes and 43 seconds during the final frame.
“At times this year, we kind of let off the pressure, and that’s what we talked about at halftime,” said Bowen. “We wanted to keep attacking and not be passive.”
Also for Southside, Graceanne Rose contributed a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Yancey added nine points and six boards. Jovi Marble distributed five assists, while Mallory Brooks cleared six rebounds.
Serenity Rutledge paced Moody with 11 points.
Bowen said it was not a coincidence that his team plays at a higher level when the pressure is on.
“The way that these girls have worked is unrivaled at any place I’ve been, boys or girls, and I’ve been at several different places. We have practice at 6 a.m., and these girls are there at 5:30. When you work as hard as these girls do, it’s hard to give up in games. It’s provided them with a lot of confidence. They know that they can hit those shots, because they’ve already made 1,000 of those shots during practice.”
Bowen acknowledged the surge of the program’s success after winning five games last season.
“We were pretty young last year, and Coach [Kim] Nails did a great job of setting the foundation for this season. I’ve benefitted from that, because all five of our starters are juniors. A lot of the girls who come off the bench are freshmen, so we hope to be good for a while.”