By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SAND ROCK – Sand Rock girls basketball coach Lisa Bates almost lost her voice Friday night during the Class 2A, Area 12 tournament title game against Collinsville.
It wasn’t because she was yelling in disgust at her team. It was actually quite the opposite.
The Lady Wildcats executed their game plan to near perfection against their neighboring rival. They pulled down 54 total rebounds for the game and prevented the Lady Panthers from getting into much of a rhythm in a 62-35 victory to secure a home sub-regional game against defending state champion Pisgah on Tuesday.
“Rebounding was huge. We really got after it,” Bates said. “When we did miss shots, we went after it, got the rebound and stuck it in. We didn’t give them many second shots at all. I thought the girls really executed the game plan very well like we haven’t all year. We really were focused. We had lots of prep for this, and I felt like we executed the game plan just great on defense.”
Friday night was the third time the Lady Wildcats (18-13) defeated Collinsville (16-7) this season. The latest win over their rivals allowed Sand Rock the opportunity to do something special on their home court.
“We haven’t gotten to cut down the net or host area since my eighth grade year,” junior guard Kately StClair said. “In the locker room (before the game), I told the girls we have to beat Collinsville. They’re going to come out and be after us because we’ve beat them two times already. I thought we did really good on defense, on Tyla (Tatum) especially.”
Through three quarters, Sand Rock limited Tatum to nine points and no made 3-pointers. She scored 12 points in the fourth, including a pair of treys, to finish with 21 points, but Sand Rock had already built too big of a lead for the Lady Panthers to make a comeback.
“Tyla is a very talented player. We knew she was going to be the key,” Bates said. “The other girls, we didn’t let 3 (Nayeli Mata) or 10 (Rylee Tillery) get hot like they can. We kept them closely guarded also, and then we rebounded like crazy. Rebounding was the key.”
Sand Rock held an 11-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter and then built a 28-12 edge by halftime. The Lady Wildcat lead swelled to 43-21 after three quarters.
StClair had her usual big night scoring. She delivered 26 points, including four 3-pointers, to go along with seven rebounds and six assists to earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honor.
But just as big as StClair’s offensive performance were those turned in underneath the boards by Zoey Handy and Kennedy Henderson. Handy had 18 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and an assist, while Henderson contributed 12 points and 19 boards.
“I just felt it tonight. It was just coming to me,” Henderson said. “We all showed up tonight and played as a team. I felt like we were more into it. We tried to run our plays more instead of forcing so many things. It was really good.”
“Kennedy had a great night,” Bates said. “She stuck the ball in and I thought she played really great help-side defense. She was a big key on the back side of the defense, communicating and telling people what to do. Zoey turned out and really played well, and Katelyn did her part. I thought Jacey (Stephens) drew the defense off of people so we could drive, and I thought Chloe (Stephens) did a great job on Tyla (Tatum). I was proud of all of them.”
Henderson, Chloe Stephens and Handy joined StClair on the all-tournament team from Sand Rock.
Gracie Griggs added seven points for Collinsville, which plays at Area 15 champion Ider on Monday. She and Tatum were also all-tournament team selections, as was Fyffe’s Emma Twilley.
With a little momentum heading into Monday’s showdown with Pisgah, Bates is hoping the Lady Wildcats can turn in a similar performance against the defending state champions.
“I know Pisgah is a great team and they’ve won a lot of state championships, but I’d much rather play them here than go there again,” Bates said. “The last two years we’ve had to go to Pisgah, so it’s nice to be able to host it here with this group of girls. They’re really playing well at the right time. I’m excited for them.”
“It’s definitely a special feeling playing at home (in the sub-regional),” StClair added. “I think we play better at home and shoot better especially. I’m looking forward to Monday.”