Pelham outpaced by No. 3 Hillcrest in Elite Eight showdown

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM – After a playoff run full of adversity, the Pelham Panthers looked set to go toe-to-toe with the third-ranked Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa Patriots in the Central Regional Final as their young players stepped up once again in the absence of senior guard Karma Wynn.

However, after a strong opening stretch from Pelham, Hillcrest controlled both ends of the floor to earn a 57-42 win at Bill Harris Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 20, bringing an end to the Panthers’ strong postseason run in the Elite Eight.

Before the Patriots pulled away, Pelham brought the fight to Hillcrest right out of the gate. Gerren Ingram hit a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game, and after the Patriots took a 6-3 lead, Tee King responded with seven straight points to take it right back.

Hillcrest then converted an and-1 opportunity with 3:07 left in the quarter to go up 11-10, but Pelham shot well from the free throw line in the rest of the first to grab the lead two more times.

However, the Patriots scored with just over a minute left in the quarter to take a 17-16 lead, and they only grew that lead as the second quarter began.

That field goal was the start of an 11-0 run by Hillcrest to take a double-digit lead.

Ingram hit a three with 4:52 left in the half to break up the run, but the Patriots responded with two more 3-pointers in the next minute to keep building the lead.

King scored another five points to close out the half with 16 points, but Hillcrest kept capitalize on Panthers turnovers to remain in control and went into halftime with a 36-24 lead.

The points kept coming for the Patriots to start the third. After making three 3-pointers in the entire second quarter, Hillcrest made three deep balls in the opening three minutes as part of a 15-0 run to open the half.

The last three minutes were more tightly fought as Ingram converted a pair of free throws and King made a layup with less than 10 seconds left to answer a pair of Patriots baskets.

However, that King field goal was Pelham’s first basket of the quarter from the field as Hillcrest’s defense gave it a 53-28 lead at the end of the third.

While the Patriots earned the win from there, it wasn’t smooth sailing as the Panthers refused to go down without a fight, showcasing the hard work and effort that it took to get to the Elite Eight in the final eight minutes of the season.

Hillcrest scored just four points in the fourth quarter as Pelham closed the game with 13 unanswered points. King scored eight straight points for the Panthers and Shea Gallagher had five points off free throws to end the game on a strong note.

That slashed the deficit from 28 points with four minutes remaining in the game to just 15 at the final horn.

King ended the game with 27 points and five rebounds to lead both teams. Ingram had eight points and three rebounds and Gallagher recorded five points and five rebounds.