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Handley girls reach fourth straight regional

The Handley Lady Tigers have grown accustomed to advancing to the regional round of the state tournament, having done so in each of the past three seasons under head coach Courtney Screws.

After two quarters of Monday’s sub-regional against Cherokee County, that streak was in dire danger.

Handley came off the deck and rallied in the second half for 71-67 victory, but it took some choice words from Screws and a halftime wake-up call to get the Lady Tigers to that result.

“I just felt like they thought they were going to come out and just go through the motions and we were still going to win the ballgame,” Screws said. “And [Cherokee County] showed us real quickly that that was not the case.”

The Lady Warriors started off hot from outside and built a lead that got as large as 14 points in the first half before sending Handley to the locker room down 39-27.

“We just did not come to play,” Screws said.

And she made sure her players were aware of the perilous path they were walking when they got to that halftime locker room.

“There was no X’s and O’s, no talk about the ins and outs of the game. It was, ‘Either you’ve got to decide to play, or this thing’s over,’” Screws recalled.

“It was a lot more colorful than that. But I just straight up told them, they looked scared, they looked intimidated, they looked like they don’t give a dang. And if that’s the case, that’s fine. It’s over. The six seniors will never put this jersey on again. I said, ‘But I don’t want to see one tear in this locker room. I don’t want to see any pouting. I don’t want to see anybody upset because the way you played just then shows that you’re ready for it to be over.’”

Handley responded with a quick flurry of forced turnovers in the third quarter and immediately began to cut into the lead.

The increased defensive intensity was the spark for the offense as Handley outscored Cherokee County 22-6 in the third quarter and took a 49-45 lead into the fourth quarter.

Cherokee County hung around and kept the game close, but Teanna Watts – one of those six seniors – came up big from the free throw line down the stretch and Handley was able to hold onto the lead.

Watts led the Tigers with 28 points, including hitting eight straight free throws in the fourth quarter.

Takerriauna Mosley finished 21 points, and Emelia Askew added 11 points and was a presence on the offensive glass all night.

Handley now moves on to the Northeast Regional – the state equivalent of the Sweet 16 – which will be played at Jacksonville State University Saturday. The Lady Tigers will take on Priceville, which enters the game with a record of 23-6 and finished the regular season ranked No. 8 in the state in Class 4A.

Handley has reached the regional final in each of the past three seasons – one win away from the state final four – only to fall short each time. Handley’s girls program has never played in a final four.

Screws, who also never played in a final four during her outstanding high school playing career at Woodland, says this year’s team has a shot to be the one to finally break through.

“To be honest with you I think we have as good a chance as ever to make it, but just because I say we have a good chance doesn’t mean it’s an easy chance,” she said.

The regional is stacked with four quality teams. If Handley wins Saturday they will play either old nemesis Anniston, which has been to the state finals in each of the past two seasons, or New Hope, which has a 21-4 record is ranked No. 5 in the state.

“We’ve got a rough one on Saturday, and obviously if we get Anniston or New Hope it’s going to be a dogfight, if we win Saturday,” Screws said.

Anniston 50, Handley 41

Handley had to go on the road for its subregional after they fell to Anniston 50-41 in the area championship game Friday in Roanoke.

The flow of that game was flipped somewhat from the Handley win over Cherokee County, as Handley was the team that started well only to fade in the second half.

Handley, which beat Anniston twice during the regular season, took a 17-14 lead with about five minutes remaining in the second quarter. But Anniston charged back over those final five minutes and took a 20-18 lead into halftime. Handley would never lead again in the game.

The Anniston lead got as large as 11 points in the fourth quarter and Handley was never able to make a meaningful dent in that gap.

Teanna Watts led the Lady Tigers with 18 points.

Handley 52, White Plains 38

Handley reached the area championship game and kept its season going strong with a 52-38 win over White Plains in the area tournament semifinal last Wednesday.

Handley led from start to finish. Teanna Watts led the Lady Tigers with 20 points. Emelia Askew finished with nine points, and Jayla Trammell had eight.

Handley’s Emelia Askew had 11 points in her team’s subregional win over Cherokee county Monday.

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