KILLEN — Trailing by seven points early in the third quarter Thursday night, it appeared Brooks’ opportunity to reach the Northwest Regional as anything other than as a spectator was slipping slowly away, Central basket by Central basket.
Sensing that, coach Ryan Roberson decided to live or die with pressure defense. When K’Maya Roach triggered a 17-0 run that spanned more than seven minutes with back-to-back steals and layups, Roberson’s decision appeared genius. The Lions (17-13) went on to beat Central 46-37 in the Class 4A sub-regional game, securing a regional berth next week against top-ranked Oneonta.
Brooks trailed 16-12 in a low-scoring first half before Roberson decided to go to the press. He knew it was a gamble against Central’s pair of outstanding guards — Abby Keener and Bailey Nelson but felt the need to try to get something going.
“We tried to press them the last game and in the first half we got a few turnovers but the second half was all them,” Roberson said. “They broke the press with ease. We were like maybe we can jump into it as some point.”
Trailing 20-13 in the third quarter, Roberson had his team start pressing but it was a subtle switch made all the difference. The Lions denied the inbounds pass, forcing Central to catch the ball near the baseline. Trying to get out of the trap, Central’s high-arching passes were easy pickings for Roach.
Two straight possessions she snatched passes and scored on layups to ignite the team and the crowd. Central didn’t score for the final 6:24 of the third quarter as Brooks surged ahead 28-20.
“The last four games K’Maya has really stepped up her game,” Roberson said.
“She’s started playing on a level we’ve been wanting her to get to all year. She’s there now, hopefully at the right time.”
Roach, who led all scorers with 13 points, said the press made the difference.
“The press got us going in the second half,” she said. “Our intensity went up when we went to the press.”
Brooks’ lead peaked at 30-20 on Erin Jewell’s layup in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Central made it interesting, though. Bailey Nelson and Abby Keener each had 3-point plays to snap nearly eight-minute scoring drought and the Wildcats (15-16) got as close as three points. But Roach answered with a drive and Kelly Brewer, who scored 11 points, hit a back-door layup and the advantage never dipped below four points the rest of the way. Brooks hit six straight free throws at one point late in the game to finally pull away.
“We didn’t handle the press very well,” Central coach Norman Lovelady said. “They did a great job with it. And then they did a great job getting the right people the ball when we started trying to press them. They did a fantastic job.”
Keener had to work extra hard to get her team-high 11 points, often time needing two screens to get free against Brooks’ tough man defense. That was part of the plan, according to Roberson.
“We wanted to play pressure man-to-man defense and keep the ball from (Abby) Keener and make Bailey (Nelson) go left,” Roberson said. “Our kids did a good job of that.”
Roach is just happy to be able to play at least one more game.
“It’s a big deal for all of us,” she said.
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.