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Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Hazlewood’s Mallory Warren, right, cheers her team during the Northwest Regional, along with teammates, from left, Antoinetta Howlet, Shantae McCoy and Tereasha Jones.

It’s old hat for Hazlewood
Lady Golden Bears take familiar trip to Final Four to face a familiar foe

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

Darin Liles isn’t going to have to go far to scout the next opponent for his team in the Class 1A Final Four.

No, Hazlewood’s girls coach can dust off the videotape from last year’s semifinal. Shoot, he can even rewind the cassette tape from the 2004 Final Four.

On Tuesday, when the Lady Golden Bears take the court at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, they’ll face an old foe.

Hazlewood (28-6) will play Notasulga (21-7) at 4 p.m. for a spot in the finals.

A year ago, Hazlewood moved into the 1A championship game with a 73-68 overtime win over Notasulga in the semifinals.

Hazlewood’s Naughtia Langham (20) tries to control a pass in front of R.A. Hubbard’s Sacashla Hampton during the Northwest Regional.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Hazlewood’s Naughtia Langham (20) tries to control a pass in front of R.A. Hubbard’s Sacashla Hampton during the Northwest Regional.
Three years ago, Notasulga picked up the win, taking a 65-58 win over Liles’ team in the semifinals.

These two teams aren’t going to be scared by the environment.

Notasulga is in its second straight Final Four, and fifth in the past seven years, while Hazlewood is in its fourth straight Final Four and is looking to get to its third straight championship game.

“When you start winning, everyone prepares their best to play you,” Liles said Friday after his girls posted a 63-57 win over R.A. Hubbard in the Northwest Regional finals.

“Everybody knows everything we do. They scout the very best. For us to (win), the odds are against us. We talk all the time that we’re the favorites, but I think we’re the underdog.”

Hazlewood is pushing for its first state title since 1998, when the school won the 2A girls championship.

Notasulga is looking for its first state crown since winning one in 2003.

The Lady Golden Bears have the fresh memory of a walloping in last season’s championship game. McIntosh defeated Hazlewood 105-59 in the season’s final game.

A year earlier, Hazlewood lost to Spring Garden 82-58 in the finals.

Hazlewood senior forward Naughtia Langham doesn’t want to end her high school career with out a state title after being so close the past several years.

Hazlewood’s Amber Jones (22) drives for a layup past R.A. Hubbard’s Travia Ashford in the Northwest Regional.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Hazlewood’s Amber Jones (22) drives for a layup past R.A. Hubbard’s Travia Ashford in the Northwest Regional.
“We got to win it this year,” said Langham, a starter on the previous three Final Four squads.

Liles isn’t looking that far ahead. After all, he knows how tough this tournament can be.

“We hope to win it like (we hoped) the other times,” he said

Hazlewood certainly will have to play better than it did in its six-point win over Hubbard, at least on the offensive end.

The Lady Golden Bears made only 26 of 88 shots from the floor for the game, which calculates out to 29.5 percent.

But as long as their pressure defense is as good as it was against the Lady Chiefs, shooting a low percentage won’t necessarily keep them from winning.

Hazlewood forced 50 turnovers against R.A. Hubbard, and allowed the Lady Chiefs only eight shots in the entire second half.

On the other hand, Notasulga didn’t get to the Final Four with ease. The Blue Devils knocked off Hubbertvile 47-38 in the Central Regional finals, but did it in come-from-behind fashion. In the regional semifinals, Notasulga took advantage of foul trouble by Sunshine to win 60-55.

McIntosh will take on Spring Garden in the other semifinal in a rematch of the past two state champions.

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