“Bottom line: no defense today,” Sylacauga head coach Derrick Crawford said. “We battled and we got into a shoot out, which I thought it could be a shoot out. We just didn’t play the defense that we normally play. I think we got caught up in the fast pace and started relaxing on defense. It cost us. It was a great ball game. I felt like the winner of us today would play for the state championship. That was my thinking; I have had a chance to see everybody and I felt like Valley and Sylacauga were probably the top two and legitimate top three.”
The Lady Aggies got out to a fast start in the first quarter. Shakayla Thomas scored 12 of her 43 points in the quarter. She opened the game on a 9-4 run.
Dede Mitchell played well in the first quarter. The senior scored six points including a layup at the buzzer to give Sylacauga an 18-6 lead going into the second quarter.
Valley settled down and fought their way back into the game in the second quarter. The Lady Rams outscored Sylacauga 15-10 in the quarter. Tatyana Darden jumper with under a minute left in the half cut the Sylacauga lead to 28-21 going into the halftime.
The Lady Rams also had success on the defense as they switched from their man defense into a 2-3 zone. Thomas only scored two points in the period, but Mitchell and Maliyah Patton scored four points apiece to keep the Lady Aggies ahead.
Thomas and the Lady Aggies regrouped after halftime and came out firing . Thomas scored 16 straight points in the quarter. Her three-point play gave Sylacauga a 45-35 lead with 1:20 left in the third. A few seconds later she picked up her third foul of the game and was forced to sit on the bench.
Valley took advantage of Thomas being out the game by going on a 9-2 run. Taylor Miller hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead down to 45-40. Alexia Huguley scored four points during the run including a pair of free throws to trim the lead to 45-42. Thomas came into the game and drained a jumper to put Sylacauga ahead 47-41. Tournament MVP Audrianna Walker responded with a jumper at the buzzer to bring Valley within three points, 47-44 going into the fourth quarter.
“They went to that zone and we have seen zones the entire season,” Crawford said. “Today was only the second team that we have seen the entire season that tried to play us man and we were looking forward to it. Once they fell back into the 2-3 zone we started to settle for the jumpers instead of getting our normal sets that go against zones. We let them creep back in it, but at halftime we were still OK. I told the kids at the half everything was going to be decided my defense. We turned around and gave up 47 right there. We held them to 21 at the half and you give 47 right there. That was the difference in the ball game.”
The momentum that Valley gained in the third quarter carried over into the fourth quarter. Walker nailed a pair of free throws to make it 47-46. Huguley scored back to back baskets to give Valley a 50-49 lead with 6:31 left in the game.
Thomas hit a jumper to put the Lady Aggies back ahead 51-50.
Down the stretch offensive rebounds and turnover hurt Sylacauga.
The Lady Rams collected eight offensive rebounds in the quarter, including a putback by Walker to put Valley ahead 60-56 with 3:08 left in the game.
“Down the stretch we didn’t crash the boards,” Crawford said. “The last two timeouts, I was really emphasizing that we had to crash the boards and give our selves a chance right there. Well, we didn’t and you have to play defense.”
Mitchell hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead down to 62-58.
After a Sylacauga turnover Walker hit a free throw to give Valley a six point lead, 65-69 with 59 seconds left in the game. Mitchell scored 14 points in her final game as a Lady Aggies. Her layup with 51.4 second left in the game made it 65-61. Valley increased their lead to 68-61 on free throws. Patton hit the Lady Aggies 3-pointer of the game with 10.5 seconds left to cut the lead to 68-64. Thomas was able hit a jumper at the buzzer to make it 68-66.
Thomas and Mitchell earned spots on the Class 5A Central Regional tournament team. Mitchell and Patton were the only two seniors on this season’s team.
Thomas said this loss will fuel her going into her senior season.
“I am definitely going to be hungry for next year,” Thomas said. “It is getting me used to the big crowd and I’ll be back next year.”