Panthers shock Lions in semifinals

Published 6:53 pm Monday, December 19, 2011

Pelham High School senior Kaitlin Bunch looks for an open teammate in the Panthers' 49-42 victory over Briarwood Christian in the Shelby County tournament semifinals Dec. 19 at Bank Trust Arena on the University of Montevallo campus. (Reporter Photo /Wesley Hallman)

By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO — Pelham High School girls’ basketball coach Jeremy Simpson has seen his share of improbable victories in his first season at the helm.

Perhaps none matched the Panthers’ 49-42 victory over Briarwood Christian in the Shelby County tournament semifinals Dec. 19 at Bank Trust Arena on the University of Montevallo campus.

Pelham erased a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter in the comeback win against the Lions.

Simpson said the Panthers’ original game plan wasn’t working. Pelham sped up the pace of the game in the second half.

“We had to change speeds,” Simpson said. “If we were going to get beat, we were going down fighting.”

The Panthers’ victory ensured a new team will be crowned Shelby County champions in the girls’ tournament following the early exit by defending champion Briarwood Christian. Pelham is back in the championship game for the second time in three years.

Emily Jackson and Sydney Days led the Panthers (12-2) with 14 points each.

Ashley Kate Kepler added nine points. Kaitlin Bunch and Erin Whitman chipped in five points each. Erica Hall finished with two points.

Abbie Cutcliffe led Briarwood Christian (9-2) with 13 points.

Elizabeth Scott added eight points. Cara Medders chipped in seven points. Sarah Outlaw finished with six points.

Sarah Swords and Hannah Brown contributed three points each. Hannah Wainwright finished with two points.

Days scored a layup with 1:40 remaining in the opening period to give Pelham its largest lead in the first half, 7-3.

Briarwood Christian outscored Pelham 10-4 in the second quarter to carry a 18-11 lead into the locker room at halftime. Cutcliffe was fouled on a drive to the basket with 1.9 seconds remaining in the second quarter and knocked down two free throws to give the Lions a seven-point advantage at the break.

The Lions started the third quarter with a 7-0 run, which was capped with a layup by Scott, to take a 25-11 lead with 4:48 remaining in the period. Briarwood Christian extended its lead to 17 points, 33-16, following a steal and a fastbreak layup by Cutcliffe with 2:29 left in the third quarter.

Pelham responded with an 11-0 run to end the third quarter. The Panthers cut the deficit to 33-27 heading into the fourth quarter following a three-point play by Jackson with 2.2 seconds left in the period.

Pelham cut the deficit to four points, 35-31, following an offensive rebound and putback by Jackson with 4:54 remaining in the game. Kepler hit 1-of-2 free throws with 3:26 left to cut the deficit to 35-32.

Jackson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback basket to cut the deficit to 35-34 with just under three minutes left in the game.

Outlaw knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:50 remaining in the game to push the Lions’ lead back to three points at 37-34.

Days scored a basket and Kepler drained 1-of-2 free throws with 1:58 left in the game to tie the game at 37-37.

Bunch found Days cutting to the basket and the senior guard converted the three-point play to give the Panthers their first lead of the second half, 40-37. Days then stole the inbounds pass and scored a layup to give Pelham a 42-37 lead, which effectively iced the game.

“It was a lot of fight and hustle,” Simpson said. “It was beautiful to see as a coach.”