Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
Hartselle's Jessica Andrews moves past Monique King in the regionals Friday.
Hartselle breaks through
Lady Tigers land spot in Final Four
By Mark Edwards
email@example.com · 340-2461
HANCEVILLE — When it ended, when Hartselle High finally had that Northwest Regional safely and securely in hand, nobody could stop hugging.
Mary Virginia Reeves hugged Lauren Drake. Drake hugged Jessica Andrews. Andrews hugged Jessi Smith, who hugged Lauren Dye, who hugged Anna Reeves, who hugged somebody else in a mob of players in front of the Hartselle bench.
Even the coach, Greg Adams, couldn't overcome the emotion of beating Wenonah 47-35 in the Class 5A regional finals Friday morning.
Each of his players who wanted a hug from him got one.
"Mary Virginia probably hasn't stopped crying yet," Drake said later with a smile as wide as a basketball court.
You see, this victory wasn't 32 minutes in the making or even a day or a week or a year. This one was three years in the making.
After two straight top-gun Hartselle teams got turned back at regionals the past two years by Ramsay and then Fairfield, this squad cashed in an elusive championship and a Final Four berth.
"This is probably a bit of a relief," said Drake, a senior who had nine points, six rebounds and four assists despite playing with an energy-sapping illness. "We've had high expectations, and we got it done this year."
To continue advancing, Hartselle (28-6) must face Ramsay again. The three-time defending state champions won the Central Regional with a 59-48 win over Jess Lanier on Thursday night. Hartselle and Ramsay will meet Friday at 9 a.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
But Friday remained a time to celebrate for Hartselle, which lost the Bradley-Central (Tenn.), Decatur Orthopaedic, Morgan County and Area 13 tournaments this year but won one that counted more.
"This is a joy to see," Adams said. "We came up short against Ramsay and Fairfield. We've been right there on the edge."
Four players who started on all three of those regional teams — Drake, senior Andrews, senior Mary Virginia Reeves and junior Anna Reeves — played big roles against Wenonah.
Anna Reeves had six points, three rebounds, two steals. She made two 3-pointers, including one early in the third quarter when Hartselle won a battle for a loose ball and whipped the ball Reeves, who buried the trey for a 29-22 lead. The Lady Tigers never led by fewer than seven points after that.
Andrews had four points, five rebounds, three assists and managed the Hartselle offense, which continually broke Wenonah's press defense. The Lady Tigers committed only nine turnovers, and Lady Dragons coach Emanuel Tubb Bell said later that it ruined his game plan that his team couldn't make Hartselle give up the ball more.
Mary Virginia Reeves managed 16 points, six rebounds and three steals. She scored six of her points during that all-important third quarter when Hartselle turned a 24-21
halftime lead into a 38-26 advantage.
For her efforts, she won the tournament's most valuable player honor. Her only teammate to join her on the all-tournament squad was Smith, a junior who contributed nine points, five rebounds and two steals. Adams also credited Smith's ball handling and passing for helping break the Wenonah press.
"Sometimes a ballgame comes down to who wants it the most," Bell said. "Teams get on rolls - they're on a roll, we're on a roll, and hopefully, we have the last roll. Today, everything went their way.
"When you're on, you're on, and they were on."
When Wenonah beat Brewer in the regional semifinals, the Lady Dragons sank free throws, made 3-pointers and got a big game from 6-foot-2 senior center Jasmine Tate, a Clemson signee.
Wenonah got one out of three this time. Tate had 12 points, 20 rebounds and four blocked shots and made the all-tournament team along with Brewer's Courtney Scott, the Hartselle pair and Wenonah's Fredeidra Cole.
But against Hartselle, the Lady Dragons made only one 3-pointer and sank 2 out of 17 free throws, missing 12 straight at one point in the second half.
"We went 2-for-17 and lost by 12 — you do the math," Bell said.
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