Briarwood girls claim another area championship

Briarwood Christian School girls’ basketball coach Jim Brown understands the importance of a home-court advantage during the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Brown’s Lions needed a win Jan. 19 against Class 5A, Area 8 rival Chelsea to gain the right to play in front of a home crowd during the Area 8 tournament Feb. 4-6.

Forward Anna Handlin hit 1-of-2 free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining to give the Lions a 39-38 win over host Chelsea, which sealed home-court advantage in the area tournament and a second consecutive Class 5A, Area 8 regular season championship.

The Lions, who cap their area schedule Jan. 22 with a home game against Shelby County, are 14-0 in games against Class 5A, Area 8 competition during the past two seasons. Brown hopes to pick up two more wins against Area 8 opponents and claim the tournament championship in early February.

“Last year, we were the number one seed and we won (the Area 8 tournament),” Brown said. “We’re the number one seed again. We’re very proud of that.”

Senior guard Julia Hoke led the Lions (12-9, 5-0 in Class 5A, Area 8) with 19 points. Senior forward Kathryn Byers, who was nursing an injured right ankle, added 12 points. Handlin finished with three points.

Lauren Swee led Chelsea (10-12, 4-2 in Class 5A, Area 8) with 15 points. Amanda Mock added eight points and Sydney Arnold chipped in six points.

Chelsea had the upper hand early as four different players scored during an 8-2 run by the Hornets to open the game. The Lions battled back and two free throws by senior Laura Gilbert cut the Chelsea lead to 12-11 early in the second quarter.

Arnold scored three points and Swee nailed a 3-pointer to push the Hornets’ lead to 18-11 midway through the second quarter. Byers contributed four points and Hoke hit two free throws as the Lions ended the first half with a 6-0 run to cut the Chelsea lead to 22-20 at halftime.

Hoke completed the comeback as her 3-pointer with 5:56 remaining in the third quarter tied the game at 23-all. Another 3-pointer by Hoke with 2:45 left in the quarter gave Briarwood a 30-27 lead. Swee nailed a 3-pointer minutes later to tie the game at 32-all heading into the fourth quarter.

Byers opened the fourth quarter by hitting two free throws and the Lions wouldn’t surrender the lead the rest of the game. Mock hit two free throws with 1:56 remaining to tie the game at 38-all.

Handlin received an inbounds pass with 1.6 seconds remaining and made a move to the basket to draw a whistle with 0.1 left on the clock. Handlin calmly hit the first free throw to give Briarwood a 39-38 lead before missing her second attempt.

“Anna did a really good job of getting a shot off under pressure,” Brown said. “That was huge. The first (free throw) is so big.”

Brown said he was proud of the way his players fought through adversity with both Hoke and Byers limited by nagging ankle injuries.

“Both (Hoke and Byers) had a great game,” Brown said. “Laura Gilbert had a great game defensively. It was a war out there. Our players really battled and did what they had to do. It was all about survival.”

The Hornets wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A, Area 8 tournament. Chelsea coach Wayne Trucks said his players would like to have a third meeting with Briarwood in the area tournament.

“Hopefully we’ll get another chance at them,” Trucks said. “I’m really proud of my girls. We took a punch and came back.”

BOYS

Briarwood Christian 50, Chelsea 38

The Chelsea Hornets tried to make a run in the second half, but Briarwood had an answer every time as the Lions picked up a 50-38 win in a Class 5A, Area 8 contest at Chelsea.

The Hornets, who trailed 29-15 at halftime, cut the lead to six points following a 3-pointer by Brandon Horton with 2:55 remaining in the third quarter.

Chelsea couldn’t get any closer as the Lions’ Luke Collins and Justin Bice each nailed timely 3-pointers late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth quarter to keep Briarwood in front.

“We knew they would come out hard and make a comeback,” said Briarwood coach Chris Laatsch. “Our kids answered. We battled and battled all night.”

Bice and James Palmer led the Lions (12-11, 2-3 in Class 5A, Area 8) with 11 points each. Jason Laatsch added 10 points and Nathan Fincher chipped in nine points.

Horton and Jake Ganus led Chelsea (8-15, 0-6 in Class 5A, Area 8) with 10 points each. Julius McCall added seven points.