Briarwood girls fend off Pelham in area opener

Published 11:06 am Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Pelham's Jamila Wilson gets Briarwood's Molly McKenzie on her hip as she drives to the lane on Jan. 5. Briarwood beat the Lady Panthers 53-42. (Contributed / Stephen Schumacher)

Pelham’s Jamila Wilson gets Briarwood’s Molly McKenzie on her hip as she drives to the lane on Jan. 5. Briarwood beat the Lady Panthers 53-42. (Contributed / Stephen Schumacher)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor    

NORTH SHELBY – After a long Christmas break layoff, both the Briarwood Lady Lions and Pelham Lady Panthers returned to the basketball floor for their first area game of the 2015-16 season on Jan. 5, which was also the first game of the new year for both. Pelham, which at one point this season lost eight games in a row, was 3-3 in its last six games and hoped to get off to a good start in 6A Area 9 play. Briarwood however came in with an 11-4 record and fended off a late Pelham run to grab the 53-42 victory.

“We didn’t play that well in the first half,” Briarwood girls’ head coach Jim Brown said after the game. “Picked the defense up a little bit in the second half. We’ve been off for a long time, and we played a little bit like that.”

Briarwood starts five seniors, most of whom can handle the ball well, and the Lady Lions’ strategy is predicated around dribble penetration on offense and intense on-ball pressure on defense. After a back-and-forth first half Briarwood led 23-17, but Pelham’s Jamila Wilson led all first-half scorers with nine points.

A few quick buckets from Briarwood to start the third gave the Lady Lions a 10-point cushion, at which point they started pressing Pelham, hounding the Lady Panthers all over the floor. However the press and on-ball defensive effort led Briarwood to overcommit a number of times, allowing Pelham the chance for easy baskets, and Pelham pulled back within four a few times in the third. Heading into the fourth quarter the Lady Panthers only trailed by six, 36-30.

The Lady Panthers came out of the gate firing in the fourth quarter, and scored six straight points thanks to a number of Briarwood turnovers to tie the game at 36-36. From that point on, Briarwood outscored Pelham 17-6 over the final five-and-a-half minutes of game action to get the win, thanks in large part to Morgan Hutchinson and Ellie Tarence, who combined for 12 fourth quarter points and were responsible in large part for righting the faltering ship late in the game.

“We knew Pelham was going to play us tough, they always do,” Brown added. “Overall we’re just glad to get out of here with a win.”

Hutchinson had 12 points, all in the second half, for Briarwood while Shelly Proctor also had 12. Wilson led Pelham and all scorers with 20.

Briarwood advanced to 12-4 (1-0) while Pelham fell to 5-13 (0-1).