Pelham girls make school history with Sweet-16 berth

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – As the final buzzer sounded, a moment of disbelief seemed to overwhelm the Pelham girls’ basketball team and the history they had just made.

It didn’t set in for a few minutes, as they shared some light high fives and hugs after beating Stanhope Elmore 55-45 in a sub-regional matchup on Monday, Feb. 15. But what seemed like a normal day on the court was anything but for the Panthers.

A few minutes after the buzzer had sounded, the players walked up a ladder and with family and friends looking on, they clipped pieces of the net finally realizing the history they had set—they were going to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the modern playoff era.

“It’s huge for the program,” head coach Crosby Morrison said. “When we came in and I preached to my juniors now, who were freshman babies and Laci (Gogan) who was an eighth grader, that if we just go to work every day it’s going to pay off in the end. Now, it’s paying off.”

It took some time for the Panthers to get there, going 10-14 during Morrison’s first season (2018-2019), but the new effort was noticeable and the belief started to grow.

During the 2019-2020 season, Pelham went on to finish 21-7 and made it to the sub-regional round for the second year in a row under Morrison. Now, in the midst of the 2020-2021 season, they’re knocking on the door of another 20-plus win season and not only made it to the sub-regionals for the third year in a row, but punched their ticket to the Sweet 16, making school history.

“As babies, they were getting beat in big games and their eyes were wide open in certain situations but they just stayed with it and wanted to work every day and it’s paid off for them,” Morrison said. “I’m so excited for these kids because they just really bought in to what we as a staff had to say.”

This year’s success, however, didn’t come easy.

Pelham has been forced to battle the elements of COVID-19 and other distractions, as many teams have, which led to some ups and downs. But according to Morrison, that has helped the dynamic of the team.

“This season has been crazy, but we honestly have not had our full team for the majority of the season between quarantine, injury, sickness, you name it,” she said. “We’ve preached next man up all season, and we’ve had some young kids step up and play some big roles for us throughout the season. They’ve just fought through adversity.”

And a reason they stared adversity in the face and beat it was because of their desire to play for one another as well as the motivation of not wanting to travel in the sub-regional round of the postseason like they had to do the previous two years.

Last year and the year prior, Pelham was forced to hit the road to take on Opelika in the sub-regionals, losing the two matchups by a combined 59 points.

“The last two years, they’ve traveled to Opelika, and they knew in their hearts they did not want to travel for a sub-region game this year,” Morrison said. “They got the goodness out of it, out of hosting right here and we got a chance to make history in the process by going to the Sweet 16 for the first time.”

And Pelham came out motivated in front of its home crowd.

The Panthers got off to an ideal start after a 12-0 run played a key role in an early double-digit lead.

After a 2-2 tie, the they turned up the pressure defensively and capitalized on several turnovers by turning them into points on the other end.

That led to the 12-0 run, which featured two 3-pointers from Gogan and steals leading to layups from Myriah Tate and Katlyn Hollingsworth, which put Pelham in front 14-2.

Stanhope rebounded with an 8-1 run to end the quarter to quickly get back in the game by cutting the deficit to five points going to the second quarter.

Pelham came out with another quick run to start the second quarter thanks to four quick points from Victoria West, who got an offensive board and put back as well as another layup one possession later.

That pushed the lead back to nine points and was part of a stretch that saw West score six of Pelham’s first eight points in the period.

The Panthers got back-to-back 3-pointers from Savannah Scarbrough shortly after and eventually took a 15-point lead after Gogan and West made three more free throws.

Stanhope gathered some slight momentum ahead of the half with a 4-0 to cut Pelham’s lead to 32-21 at the break, but the Panthers still held a double-digit advantage.

That seemed to give the Mustangs some confidence coming out of the break, as they started to play at a faster-pace.

They were getting up quick shots and playing aggressively, while Pelham came out with a slower pace in the half.

Stanhope seemed to be finding a rhythm, while Pelham had lost its rhythm briefly, which led to the Mustangs trimming the deficit to seven points at 38-31 with 1:55 to play in the third.

But right on que, Gogan knocked down a crucial 3-pointer to swiftly give the momentum right back to the Panthers.

Then, one possession later, Gogan took a heat check, launching an NBA-range bomb that found the bottom of the net to put the Panthers back up by 13 before taking a 44-33 lead into the final quarter.

Pelham went back up by as many as 15 in the final quarter, which became too much for Stanhope Elmore to overcome as the Panthers closed out the 10-point victory.

They were led in the historic win by Gogan with 18 points, while Myriah Tate and Victoria West were just behind with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

Pelham will now hit the road for a Sweet 16 matchup with either McGill-Toolen or Spanish Fort.