Aggies end Lions’ area title streak
By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor
NORTH SHELBY — Briarwood Christian School girls’ basketball coach Jim Brown saw a direct correlation between the Lions’ offensive struggles and the success of Sylacauga forward Shakayla Thomas in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A, Area 7 tournament championship game Feb. 11.
Briarwood Christian had trouble converting many open looks from the field, which led to several transition opportunities for Thomas in her 41-point performance in Aggies’ 64-45 victory over the Lions in the title game.
“She’s a great player,” Brown said. “We just didn’t hit enough shots. Every missed shot became a rebound for her and she was off to the races.”
Abbie Cutcliffe led the Lions (21-6) with 18 points in the championship game, which ended Briarwood Christian’s streak of three-consecutive AHSAA Class 5A, Area 7 tournament titles.
The Lions will travel to the AHSAA Class 5A, Area 4 champion in a Class 5A sub-regional contest Feb. 16 with a berth in the Class 5A Central Region tournament on the Alabama State University campus in Montgomery riding on the outcome. Valley will host Russell County in the AHSAA Class 5A, Area 4 championship game Feb. 13 at 5 p.m.
Hannah Wainwright added 12 points. Samantha Swords chipped in eight points.
Cara Medders contributed four points. Hannah Brown finished with two points. Sarah Outlaw added one point.
Sylacauga ended the fourth quarter with a 15-2 run, which distorted the final score in a game that remained close throughout the contest.
Medders’ hook shot just 1:09 into the game tied the score at 2-2 before the Aggies led the remainder of the contest. However, Briarwood Christian kept the deficit within single digits until late in the fourth quarter.
Sylacauga went on a 8-0 run in the first quarter to take a 10-2 lead following a layup by Thomas with 2:24 left in the period. Cutcliffe cut the deficit to three points, 10-7, when her jump shot capped a 5-0 run by the Lions with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
However, the Aggies closed the opening quarter with a 4-0 run to push their lead to 14-7 following the first quarter.
The Lions cut the deficit to one point, 14-13, following a jumper by Brown with 5:51 remaining in the first half. Sylacauga responded with a 5-0 run to push its lead to 19-13 following a jumper by Maliyah Patton with 5:00 left in the second quarter.
The Aggies stretched their lead to as many as eight points late in the first half before Cutcliffe knocked down a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, which cut the Lions’ deficit to 25-20 entering the locker room at halftime.
Cutcliffe’s floater in the lane capped a 7-2 run by Briarwood Christian to start the second half and temporarily tied the game at 27-27 with 5:00 remaining in the third quarter.
Sylacauga stretched its lead to 35-27 following an 8-0 run, which was capped with a layup by Thomas with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
Cutcliffe’s 3-pointer in the first minute of the fourth quarter trimmed the deficit to three points, 38-35, before Sylacauga went on a 9-2 run to end the Lions’ hopes of comeback win.
Brown said the Aggies’ fourth-quarter run was too much for his team to overcome.
“It seemed like forever before we hit another shot,” Brown said. “You have to give (Sylacauga) credit for that.”