Pelham girls fall to No. 3 Hillcrest in Elite Eight matchup

Published 8:08 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023

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By LAUREN SEXTON | Sports Reporter

BIRMINGHAM – A tough third quarter led to heartbreak for the Pelham Panthers’ girls basketball team inside Bill Harris Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 22, as their season came to an end in a 57-45 loss to No. 3 Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa. 

Still, for head coach Crosby Morrison, a sense of pride overcame her after the game thanks to a senior class that finished their career with trips to the Sweet 16, Final Four and Elite Eight the last three years. 

“I’m so proud of this group,” Morrison said. “I think we arguably played the toughest schedule in the state of Alabama. We had a very tough schedule and we knew that going in. We needed to play tough teams to prepare for the best, which Hillcrest, in my opinion, is the second-best 6A team in the state.

In their latest appearance in the Elite Eight, it was a fast-paced game straight out of the gate for Pelham and the Hillcrest Patriots. 

Pelham managed to keep the game close only trailing Hillcrest by four or fewer points for the majority of the opening quarter, however, in fleeting seconds before the second quarter Hillcrest extended the lead to six at 17-11.

Laci Gogan led the Panthers in the first quarter after knocking down three points and totaling three defensive rebounds. Tiauna King, Karma Wynn, Alayna Noble and Niles Daniel posted two points each.

With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Panthers shifted to a much more aggressive and defensive mindset. Pelham withheld all of Hillcrest’s attempts in the early part of the second quarter.

Hillcrest resorted to the three ball after Pelham’s dominant presence inside the paint, however, most of the Patriots’ attempts ended in failure. While Hillcrest struggled to post points, Pelham took advantage and gained the lead.

As the final seconds ticked off in the second quarter, however, Hillcrest maneuvered Pelham’s defense to tie the game 23-23 going into the half.

Gogan went four-for-four, while Kaitlyn Hollingsworth and King both posted three points each outside the arc, while Daniel tacked on four points.

Coming back from the break, a much more aggressive Hillcrest returned to the court.

The Patriots were able to put together a quick run that shifted momentum, and they capitalized by extending the separation with a 22-point quarter that led to a 45-31 lead going to the final period.

Pelham continued to fight for a comeback from the start of the fourth quarter, however, Hillcrest’s defense was a force to be reckoned with early on in the quarter. The Panthers were limited to one point in the first four minutes of the final period as time dwindled away.

Pelham eventually trimmed the deficit down to 10 points, but it was too little too late, as Hillcrest finished off the 12-point win.

“We’re going to keep it rolling every year,” Morrison said. “We preach legacy and we want to leave this program better than how you found it. These underclassmen have an expectation now of getting to this point when we were disappointed not making it to the final four to play for a championship which was our initial goal, but today’s loss hurt. We expected to win, we went into today expecting to be in the Final Four and play for a championship, it hurt. We talked about it after the game. Remember and let it fuel you going into the offseason and fuel the start of preseason next year because Pelham high school created a standard of excellence and the plan for a state championship next year.”

Gogan was Pelham’s leading scorer with 16 points and eight rebounds, while King and Wynn followed Gogan with nine points each. King totaled five rebounds, while Wynn totaled one rebound. Daniel posted six points and three rebounds.