A tale of two halves — that’s how the opening round of the Girl’s 12th Regional Tournament unfolded last night at Lincoln County High School, when rivals Southwestern and Somerset squared off in an elimination game for both clubs.
Simply put, the Lady Warriors manhandled Somerset from the outset, leading the Lady Jumpers by a commanding, 32-7 margin at the half.
However, Erin Walker’s club refused to quit or go away on this evening.
The Lady Jumpers put forth a furious second-half rally, trimming that 25-point halftime deficit down to single digits in the fourth quarter, but that comeback attempt would fall short, as Southwestern moved on to the tourney semi finals with a 59-43 victory over Somerset.
For the Lady Jumpers, the numbers were ugly — very ugly at the intermission.
Somerset had only three made baskets, just seven points, and had 10 turnovers.
The Lady Jumpers were 0-3 from the free throw line, and were outrebounded by Southwestern by a 16-11 margin in the opening half of play.
All those numbers from the stat sheet led to the biggest numbers of all — 32-7 in favor of the Lady Warriors at halftime.
However, Somerset looked like a much different team after the intermission.
The Lady Jumpers outscored Southwestern in the second half by a 36-27 margin, led in large part by Virginia Scott.
The Somerset senior — playing in the final game of her prep career — tallied 21 of her game-high 23 points in the second half, but thanks to that large halftime deficit, even that would not be enough on this night for the purple and gold.
“We’re looking up at the scoreboard at halftime, and we’ve made just three shots in the first half,” lamented Walker, after seeing her club’s season end with a 14-15 record.
“At halftime, we just gave them ‘the heart speech’,” added the Somerset coach. “We didn’t make a lot of shots in the first half, but you can’t just give up — you can’t go out and give up 32 points and only score seven. I think a lot of it had to do with nerves. This was a big game on a big stage in a big gym, with lots of people. I’m sure our team was a little nervous, and Southwestern came out and did a lot of good things and we weren’t, and we got frustrated.”
Southwestern meanwhile only had five turnovers at halftime, yet, the Lady Jumpers forced the Lady Warriors into five turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter, turning up the heat in their full-court press.
Scott scored 12 of Somerset’s 22 points in that third frame, helping the Jumpers trim six points off that lofty halftime deficit, trailing the Lady Warriors by a 48-29 margin headed into the fourth quarter of play.
Southwestern head coach Stephen Butcher — who saw his team improve to 24-6 with Thursday night’s victory — pointed out afterwards that he probably should have called a timeout a little quicker in the third frame when Somerset began to make its move by turning up the heat on its press, forcing the Lady Warriors into some turnovers of their own.
However, the Lady Warrior coach says that he also wanted to see how his club would respond to that small bit of adversity. And, the Southwestern coach says he was happy with what he saw from his club at that juncture.
“I went a little long there by not calling a timeout, probably to try to stop the bleeding a little bit,” pointed out Butcher.
“I was trying to see how we were going to respond — how are we going to deal with this?”, remarked the Lady Warrior coach. “The good news is that once we got settled and once we figured out what needed to happen, my kids did a great job of just going and getting the basketball. Then, instead of just getting it across the timeline and waiting, we decided that we were just going to put a layup tax on them. If you’re going to press, then we’re going to shoot layups. I thought we did a pretty good job of that once we got settled down.”
Somerset continued to put the heat on Southwestern, and when Maranda Mills drained a three-point bucket with 3:22 remaining on the clock, Somerset had actually trimmed the deficit to the Lady Warriors down to single digits at 51-42.
At that moment however, Southwestern had the answer.
After a Lady Warrior turnover on the next trip down the floor, Southwestern came up with a steal on the other end, and Elisabeth Latham made Somerset pay for that miscue by completing an old-fashioned three-point play.
That bucket and one by Latham started a mini-Southwestern run, as the Lady Warriors ended the contest with an 8-1 run, to complete the 59-43 victory.
Dylana Fothergill led Southwestern in the victory with 15 points, and she paced a very balanced scoring attack for Butcher and company.
Latham recorded a double-double, with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Adison Corder chipped in with 13 points.
“I’m happy with the win and the fact that we’re moving on to the semi finals, but at the same time we’ve not done anything that wasn’t expected of us,” Butcher pointed out.
“We just talked to them about the fact that the opportunity to hang that first banner is right there,” stated the Southwestern coach. “To do that, we have to be tough enough and disciplined enough to reach out there and grab it.”
Walker meanwhile, for the second year in a row, had Somerset in the regional tournament — a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in 12 years.
Still, the Somerset coach says her team’s goal remains much more than just a regional appearance.
“I think the last time Somerset went back to back years to the region was in 2001 and 2002,” stated Walker.
“That’s 12 years that we’ve done something that hadn’t happened in 12 years,” Walker added. “We’re making progress, but we’re not happy with losing in the first round. I would like to thank our administration, parents, and all of our supporters for getting behind our team and for all of the support they gave us this season.”
Southwestern will move on the tourney semi finals, which takes place tomorrow at Lincoln County High School beginning at Noon.
In Saturday’s first semi final game, the Danville Lady Admirals will meet Wayne County, while Southwestern will square off against Mercer County in the second game beginning at 2 p.m.
The championship game of the Girl’s 12th Regional Tournament is slated for 3 p.m. on Sunday from Lincoln County High School.
SHS — 5 2 22 14 — 43
SW — 19 13 16 11 — 59
Southwestern — Fothergill 15, Latham 14, Corder 13, Fitzgerald 9, Combs 4, Reed 4.
Somerset — Scott 23, Mills 11, Bigelow 5, Brooks 4.