The Shelby County Lady Wildcats got off to a 4-0 lead over Sylacauga, but then Thomas found her scoring touch and led her team to a 61-34 victory in the Area Tournament championship game. She hit six straight free throws to put the Lady Aggies in the lead, 6-4.
Shelby County’s Kalen Starks hit a free throw to cut it to 6-5.
Thomas closed out the first quarter with two consecutive three-point plays to push the lead to 12-5.
“They came out with a lot of energy,” Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford said of Shelby County. “They did that the game before, so we just wanted to stay with our game plan and not show too much because we had Valley here scouting. There were a lot of different things we could have run that we didn’t run because we didn’t want them to get it on paper. We’re anticipating meeting them down the road. [Thomas] made just about all of her free throws, she missed one free throw. We put a lot of time in it yesterday on defense and a lot of time in on free throws yesterday. So, it paid off.”
To open the second quarter, Sylacauga once again turned to Thomas, who drove from beyond the three-point line all the way to the hoop for two points.
After Kayla Dark hit a free throw, Starks answered for Shelby County by hitting a similar drive to the basket that Thomas had successfully only moments earlier, then hitting two free throws on the following offensive possession to cut Sylacauga’s lead down to 15-9.
At that point, Sylacauga went on an 11-0 run that was a pivotal moment in shifting the momentum for the rest of the game to the Lady Aggies. During the run, Thomas eight of the 11 points and more importantly for Shelby County, Starks picked up her third foul with 4:15 still remaining in the second quarter. By the end of the run, Sylacauga held a commanding 26-9 lead.
Shelby County’s Hallie Brown did find some success in cutting to the inside and driving through the lane and to the basket to keep the team’s offense on track with five points at the end of the third quarter. But Shelby County simply had no answer for Thomas on defense. She hit an off-the-glass shot before the half to give Sylacauga a 30-16 lead.
Starks did her best to generate some offense for the Lady Wildcats, scoring six points in the third quarter before fouling out with three seconds left in the quarter. Two of her teammates, Brown and Jaselyn Harrison hit 3-point shots. However, Thomas scored nine points in the quarter, including a pair of jumpers from the corner. By the end of the third quarter, Sylacauga held a 45-31 advantage.
With Starks fouled out, the fourth quarter was all Sylacauga. They outscored Shelby County 16-3 in the fourth quarter. Thomas had a nice pump move to muscle her way past a defender, allowing her to hit her final basket before making an early exit. At that point, it was 51-31.
“The key to the win was defense,” Crawford said. “We played pretty good defense. We gave up three points in the fourth quarter. We gave up 11 one quarter, too many points. We don’t want to give up that many points in a quarter. We want to keep our points down to at most nine a quarter. Our kids worked extremely hard for us tonight.”
Thomas led all scorers with 39 points including going 11 for 12 at the free throw line.
Thomas was named the MVP of the Area Tournament for her total of 79 points over two games. Her teammates Tiera Dark and Kiera Pope were also named, along with Shelby County’s Kalen Starks and Hallie Brown. Talladega’s Ricaundria Joseph was also named to the team.
Both Starks and Hallie Brown led Shelby County in scoring with 13 points.
With the win, Sylacauga will host the sub regional game on Thursday against Valley.