RED BAY — Feeling momentum turning the other way, Red Bay coach Donnie Roberts decided to stop trying to run with Lexington.
The visiting Golden Bears had gotten out in transition and scored back-to-back 3-point plays, opening up a game-high 7-point lead to begin the second half. So Roberts wanted his Tigers to pack it in with a half-court defense, clog the lane and defend the 3-point line.
It was a move that helped Class 2A No. 5 Red Bay to a 44-36 win against No. 4 Lexington in Thursday night’s girls high school basketball sub-regional.
After the defensive adjustment, the Tigers held the Golden Bears scoreless from the field for a 12-minute, 32-second stretch and mounted a 15-0 run to seize control.
With the win, Red Bay (27-3) advances to the Northwest Regional tournament for the sixth straight season. The Tigers will open regional play against No. 7 Cold Springs (20-9) on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Wallace State-Hanceville.
The loss ends Lexington’s season with a 26-8 record.
“We thought we could hurt them with our press, but it wasn’t effective at all,” Roberts said. “We got out of that and ran a half-court trap some the second half. Finally, we just decided we’d be better off getting back defensively to the 3-point line, play man-to-man and try to stop them from shooting 3s or penetrating.”
Roberts relied on the play of his interior players when it mattered most in a physical game, and Kasey Sparks answered the call.
She scored 11 of her game-high 15 points in the second half, made 7 of 10 free throws and totaled 13 rebounds.
Defensively she had nine boards, two steals and five blocked shots, while consistently challenging and altering Lexington’s close-range looks.
“We have two seniors and got so close last year, finishing runner-up, so this meant a lot to us,” Sparks said. “We knew we had to play hard. Our goal was to make them drive because they shoot a lot of 3s and work it inside more on offense.”
Coming out of a 20-all halftime tie, Lexington scored the first seven points of the third quarter.
Haven Albright hit a 3-pointer from the left wing. She followed with a steal, was fouled while making a transition layup and hit the ensuing free throw with 7:35 left in the quarter.
Sydney Corum then made 1 of 2 foul shots, and the Golden Bears led 27-20 with 5:37 left in the period.
From there, the Golden Bears didn’t score again until Savannah Stults’ basket cut Red Bay’s lead to 35-29 with 3 minutes left in the game.
Stults sank a 3 to pull Lexington within 39-34 with 1:26 to play, but the Golden Bears got no closer.
“I hate it to end like this because I really felt like it was either us or Red Bay that was going to represent the Northwest (at the state tournament),” Lexington coach Nick Cottrell said. “It just didn’t fall our way. It seems like the last two games, in the fourth quarter there’s been a lid on the basket.”
Cottrell also cited a discrepancy in fouls as a factor. Lexington was whistled for 21 fouls to Red Bay’s eight.
“Any coach knows when you start to get in foul trouble, it takes an effect on the girls’ minds,” Cottrell said. “That was part of it. Red Bay did what they did and hit some crucial shots. I’m not blaming the refs for the game, but they dictated a lot of stuff. We went cold when it got in our girls’ heads.”
Albright led Lexington with 12 points, six rebounds and four steals. Stults added nine points and six rebounds, and Corum had nine points.
Allie Kennedy added 12 points, six rebounds and made 6 of 7 free throws for Red Bay.
Neither team could find its shooting touch, Red Bay going 12-of-40 from the field and Lexington 13-of-53, including 4-of-24 from 3-point range.
But the Tigers inside play helped lead to a 40-30 rebounding advantage.
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com. Follow @bappster on Twitter.