Names for the Regional Championship Team: Bottom, left to right: Betsy Herrin, Brandie Aldridge, Stephanie Oliver, Susan Carter, Alysha Dowling, Anna Beal; Back Row, left to right: Mary Anne Howell, Ashley Lee, Liza Thomas, Jessica Morgan, Shannon Duncan, Janna Wilson, Autumn Krug, Crystal Lee. Coaches (not pictured): Selena Tumlin and Deon Horne
By Staff Writer, Garry Keels (Name of Newspaper Not Specified)
Never before had the Brantley County girls won a region championship. But never before had they had a team like this one. Jessica Morgan and Susan Carter give them one of the state's best inside-outside combinations. And there's an excellent supporting case in starters, Shannon Duncan, Liza Thomas and Stephanie Oliver, to go, and Alysha Dowling and Autumn Krug who provide solid bench play.
Whereas in the past, the Lady Herons seemed like underdogs in the region tournament, not able to get over the hump, this loaded 11th ranked team was the favorite in Saturday night's Region 2-AA Championship game with Brooks County. The Lady Herons weren't about to let this chance slip by. Taking a precarious five-point lead to intermission, Brantley rolled to a 60-49 victory in a game that was never seriously in doubt to secure the school's first region title.
"I felt like we played a solid defensive game and there was a lot of hustle," said Brantley Coach Selena Tumlin. "We maintained our intensity throughout the game." Liza and Stephanie had one of their best defensive games."
Brantley just 3-5 after eight games, has now ripped off 16 straight wins, establishing a school record for consecutive victories. "It took us some games to jell," Tumlin said. "We have three new starters, and some girls with their first experience of being counted on in a game. We lost some close games early, but I felt like that made us stronger. Another factor is the girls have the desire to win and go as far as they can."
As they did in Friday's semifinals, the Lady Herons bolted out to a 9-0 lead, as Carter converted a steal into a lay-up, Thomas hit from 14 feet, Duncan canned a six footer, Morgan sank a free throw and Duncan scored after an offensive rebound.
The Lady Trojans twice cut their deficit to three in the second quarter. Trailing 13-9 after one period, Monica Seay's free throw made it 13-10. Center Surtyeric Wright's lay-up with 43 seconds left got Brooks to within 21-18. But Carter, who was fouled as the clock turned 0:00, nailed both free throws for a 23-18 halftime lead.
Morgan, with nine points in the first half, took control in the second half. Although the Lady Trojans had their best quarter in the fourth, the Lady Herons had eight minutes to protect a 40-26 lead. On the first possession of the final period, Morgan scored inside, and was fouled for a three-point play to boost the margin to 43-26. Her two free throws at 3:48 gave the Lady Herons an insurmountable 53-32 cushion.
The fact that Brooks held a 17-7 advantage the rest of the way was meaningless. Morgan added eight points in the third and nine in the fourth to finish with a game high 26 points. "God was on my side," Morgan said. "I was praying he would help me do my best." "I think it's wonderful (being a part of the school's first girls basket ball region champion). I'm real excited. It's a big accomplishment. It's something we talked about, but we just took one game as it came. "We want to keep on going. We want to go all the way. It depends on how well we play together."
Carter added 16 points and like Morgan is elated about being on Brantley's first region championship team. "That makes me feel pretty good," said Carter. "I knew we had a real good team. I knew we could do it. It makes me feel real good that we put all this work into it and it paid off." "We want to go all the way to state and win it. We're going to keep working harder and harder every day. I don't mean to sound cocky, but I believe we can play with anybody. I'm very confident we can make it. We have a real good chemistry."
Thomas contributed 10 points. Duncan had the team's other eight points. Seay's 13 points and Wright's 11 paced Brooks County. Brantley begins state play at 4 p.m. Friday versus Tooms County, which is hosting the tournament.