Photo: Sardis High’s Kytha Edwards (5) celebrates with Belle Trammell following Trammell’s winning shot during the Lady Lions’ 32-31 victory over Fairview in the Class 5A subregional playoffs history last Monday (Feb. 14) in Sardis City. (Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
The Class 5A, No. 8 Sardis varsity girls basketball team celebrated the happiest Valentine’s Day in program history last Monday (Feb. 14) in Sardis City.
The Lady Lions posted a thrilling 32-31 triumph over Fairview in the subregional playoffs that punched their ticket to the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State.
Sardis (26-7) advance to the Northeast Regional for just the second time. The program’s only other appearance occurred in 1995, when the Lady Lions lost to Locust Fork, 67-38, in the Class 3A semifinals.
Sardis faces either Ramsay or Alexandria in the regional 5A semifinals Friday at 9 a.m. at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“I counted our last box on the goals to check, and now it’s one game at a time and anybody can go win it all now,” said Sardis head coach Heath Cullom, whose squad won the Etowah County championship and the area tournament title and reached the Northeast Regional in the same season for the first time.
Sardis overcame a poor shooting performance from both the field and foul line to rally past the Aggies. The Lady Lions converted only 3-of-14 free throws on the night.
“They were super stressed [early in the game] and making mistakes they usually don’t make,” Cullom said. “Nobody really wanted the ball at that point in time until the very end. I felt we played not to lose more than just play to win like we did against Douglas [in the 5A Area 13 Tournament finals].”
Trailing 26-24 after three periods, the Lady Lions scored five of their eight fourth-quarter points in the last 1:49, including the biggest basket of senior guard Belle Trammell’s career.
An offensive rebound led to Kytha Edwards’ runner in the paint that pulled Sardis within 30-29 at the 1:49 mark. Sardis fouled Fairview’s Sadie Smith on a 3-point attempt, but she converted only one of three free throws, making it 31-29 with 1:20 remaining.
The Lady Lions then missed a jump shot. Fairview rebounded the ball, but Edwards made a steal with 50.5 seconds to go. Following a timeout, McKenzie Cullom threw an inbounds pass to Trammell, who saw an opening and made a strong drive to the basket. Despite taking a hand to her face, she sank the game-tying layup with 46.5 seconds left. She then hit the free throw to convert the traditional three-point play and put Sardis in front 32-31.
“Belle made a huge play there at the end, and Jayda [Lacks] battled the whole time,” Cullom said. “And I’ll tell you, Kaylen Wallace was huge for us. She stepped up big time first half and second half.”
Fairview missed an open 3-pointer from the right corner at the 16-second mark, and Lacks cleared the rebound. Edwards missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.9 seconds to go, but Wallace grabbed the rebound and passed the ball to Trammell.
The Aggies fouled Trammell with 5.5 seconds on the clock, and she missed the front end of a one-and-one. This time, Edwards controlled the rebound and fed it to Trammell, whom the Aggies fouled with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Shooting the double bonus, Trammell missed both shots, but Fairview managed only a desperation shot at the buzzer as the Sardis student section poured onto the court to celebrate the historic victory.
“I [asked] them at halftime, ‘who is going to make the shot to get the crowd going?’ That’s all we needed,” Cullom said. “I feel like our crowd can be a five- or six-point difference just with their energy. I actually watched Fairview talk about it in warmups, how many people we had. They were in shock. This community needed this. They’ve been excited about basketball. It’s just awesome to look up there and not see an empty seat in the house.”
Sardis grabbed an early 4-0 lead, but the Lady Aggies hit four treys in the opening quarter to go up 14-8 at the rest stop.
Each team managed only four points in the second quarter, which ended with Fairview in front 18-12. The teams combined to go 0-for-9 from the foul line in the opening half.
Sardis’ Caroline Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the right wing, tying it 20-20 with 4:58 left in the third period. Wallace’s layup, followed by Trammell’s two free throws, gave Sardis a 24-22 advantage with 3:19 to go, but Fairview rallied to lead 26-24 at the break.
Trammell’s seven points paced Sardis. Johnson, Lacks and Wallace scored six each, while Edwards added four and Lily Towns chipped in three.
Sardis is making its third appearance in the Sweet 16 of the state basketball playoffs. Besides 1995, the Lions advanced in 1985 before the regional format was adopted. Ken Jones served as Sardis girls head coach for the 1985 and 1995 seasons. He also guided the Lady Lions to a pair of area tournament championships during his tenure. Sardis’ 26 wins during the 2021-22 campaign are a new single-season school record for a varsity boy or girls team.