ECHS girls fall in regional finals
By By Lori Dann
Advance Managing Editor
The Escambia County Lady Blue Devils simply went cold.
In both games of the Southwest Regional in Mobile, ECHS shot less than 30 percent from the field and less than 40 percent from the free throw line.
Their defense was enough to win the opening game of the regional over Wilcox Central, but it wasn't quite enough Saturday in the regional finals against B.C. Rain. The Lady Raiders held off a late rally by ECHS to capture a 57-53 and earn a spot in the Final Four this week in Birmingham.
The loss was bitterly disappointing for the Lady Blue Devils, whose top six players are seniors. After a spectacular regular season and a third straight trip to the regionals, they believed this was their year to make a run for the state championship. They were seeking the program's first-ever trip to the Final Four.
ECHS dug its own hole early. B.C. Rain scored the game's first 12 points and was up 14-1 with 2:58 left in the opening period as the Lady Blue Devils struggled to find the mark. ECHS had the most trouble in the middle, where Sophia Hinton and Crystal Kitt dominated the boards early and made it difficult to go inside.
Latonya Knott finally hit a three-pointer at the 1:21 mark for ECHS' first field goal of the contest, but they still trailed 16-6 at the end of the first period.
The Lady Blue Devils began chipping away at the lead in the second period. A three-pointer by Trenessa Rice pulled them within seven, and a subsequent steal and layup by Rice made it a five-point game. Aleshia Stallworth's putback on the next trip down the floor made it 23-20 midway through the second period.
However, B.C. Rain scored nine of the last 12 points and carried a 29-23 lead into the locker room at halftime. At that point, the Lady Raiders were shooting 52 percent from the floor and 100 percent from the free throw line while ECHS was at 26 percent from the floor and 20 percent from the free throw line.
In the second half, B.C. Rain built its lead back up to as many as 12 points and held a 46-35 advantage heading into the final period of play.
ECHS pulled back within six points at 48-42 and then both teams began to get into foul trouble. The Lady Blue Devils' top three-point shooter, Latonya Knott, picked up her fourth with 5:33 left and then B.C. Rain's Hinton and Kitt got their fourth fouls.
The lead went back to 11 points before the Lady Blue Devils began to chip away again as their fullcourt press geared up. A three-pointer by Rice made it 53-45, and Stallworth added two free throws and then another basket to make it 53-49 with 3:50 remaining.
ECHS missed two crucial free throws on its next possession, but then Stallworth made a nice move inside to make it 53-51 with 2:30 left to go. Knott grabbed the rebound of a missed B.C. Rain shot on the other end of the floor and it appeared that the Lady Blue Devils were poised to make another of their patented comebacks.
However, ECHS turned the ball over and then committed a foul. B.C. Rain, which hit 56.5 percent of its free throws for the game, made both of the ensuing free throws to make it 55-51.
A layup by Fenetrias Lewis pulled ECHS back within two with 1:05 left. Then the Lady Raiders were able to run 40 seconds off the block before Rice fouled Ashley Wiggins. It was Rice's fifth foul. Seven seconds later Knott also fouled out, putting the team's top two three-point shooters on the bench for the remainder of the game.
Fortunately for ECHS, B.C. Rain hit just one of the four free throw attempts to leave the game at 56-53 with 18 seconds left. But once again, ECHS committed a costly turnover, and with nine seconds left Tamika Hardin hit one of two free throws to make the final 57-53.
Rice finished with 22 points to lead all scorers in the game, and she also had three assists and three steals. Stallworth was the only other ECHS player in double figures with 11 points, but she had another strong night on the boards, finishing with 22 rebounds, one shy of the Southwest Regional record. Fifteen of Stallworth's rebounds were on the offensive end Saturday, and in the two regional games she tallied a remarkable 42 boards.
Even more remarkable was the fact that Stallworth was noted on the all-tournament team despite her rebounding numbers and her double-figure scoring in both contests.
Also scoring for ECHS Saturday were Lewis with nine points, Knott with seven and Tamekia Crimbley with four. Lewis also had seven steals and five assists to lead a Lady Blue Devil defense which forced 38 turnovers. In the two tournament games, ECHS forced the opposition into 77 turnovers.
Named to the all-tournament team were Hinton and Kitt from B.C. Rain, Rice and Knott from ECHS and Octavia Price from Wilcox Central. Hinton was the MVP.
ECHS finished its season with a 25-8 record, while B.C. Rain improved to 26-6.