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For one team that won Friday night, going to the Sweet 16 is an every-year occurrence. And for the other team that won Friday night, making it to one of the state’s biggest stages was like a fairytale come to life.
Handley beat Asheville in the Class 4A sub-regionals Friday to advance to the regional round of the state tournament for the sixth straight season. And that’s an accomplishment to be lauded.
But RCHS somehow held on against No. 10 Southside, Selma for a 41-35 overtime win in the Class 3A subregional, a program-defining win that put the Lady Tigers in a regional for the first time in 21 years and just the second time in the program’s history.
Jabreia Birdsong came off the bench to score a team high 12 points and grab 11 rebounds, and Talee Sims added 9 points and 20 rebounds for RCHS, which won despite making just three field goals combined in the third and fourth quarters.
They did it with defense. They did it with rebounding. And they did just enough from the free throw line to get the game to overtime, where the team’s only two seniors came up clutch in the waning moments.
Neither team was able to claim a clear advantage from start to finish. RCHS’s largest lead was 17-11 early in the second quarter, but that lead flipped the Panther’s way thanks to a 13-1 run that bled into the opening moments of the third quarter.
But trailing 24-18 and seemingly fading, RCHS responded with a run of its own. The Lady Tigers scored seven unanswered to take a 25-24 lead, after which neither team lead by more than three points until the very end.
There were heroes aplenty for the Lady Tigers, who went ice cold from the floor over the final two quarters. Lizzie Milam was one of those heroes. Milam has taken on a starting role after a season-ending injury to Sarah Hannah, and she drained a huge 3-pointer with 2:54 left in regulation to give RCHS a 32-30 lead. A Sims free throw later in the quarter gave the Lady Tigers a 33-30 edge, and for the longest time it seemed like that would be the game’s final score.
But the Panthers got a game-tying three from Laterika Edwards with 19 seconds left, and RCHS was unable to hit a game winner in response.
Shamya Allison scored the first points in overtime for Southside, and it was the final two points in a sublime performance by the senior. She finished with a game-high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds and was virtually unguardable in stretches.
But Sims scored to re-tie the game at 35-35, and Allison picked up her fifth and final foul with 1:37 left in OT. With Allison on the bench, RCHS slammed the door thanks to clutch free throws from seniors Brantlee Wortham and Sims, who went 4-for-4 on back-to-back trips to the line to essentially seal the win.
RCHS played its size advantage to perfection as Sims, Birdsong and Lakaiyah Baker combined for 24 of the team’s 41 points and all three reached double-digits in rebounds. RCHS out-rebounded Southside 58-24 in the game.
The Lady Tigers are now 15-11 on the season and will take on Trinity Presbyterian in the Class 3A Central Regional at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham next Friday at either 3 or 6 p.m.
The last – and only – time RCHS reached the Sweet 16 before this year was in 2003. They lost to Slocumb in the round of 16 that year.
Handley 65, Ashville 53
Takeriauna Mosley scored 19 points, and Handley got 13 apiece from Ana Tucker and Kia Brown as the Lady Tigers defeated Ashville 65-53 in a road sub-regional Friday.
Handley led virtually from start to finish as they were up 18-13 after the first quarter and held a 34-25 lead at the half.
The win puts Handley in the sweet 16 for the sixth straight season and raised their record to 24-8 for the year.
Handley will take on Cherokee County in the Class 4A Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State University at either 9 a.m. or noon on Monday, Feb. 19.
Spring Garden 88, Wadley 20
Pisgah 82, Woodland 40
Both Wadley and Woodland saw their seasons come to an end with sub-regional losses to respective powerhouses in class 1A and 2A.
Woodland finishes its season with a record of 6-13. Wadley’s season ends with a record of 8-16.