HANCEVILLE — When the shots weren’t falling Saturday afternoon, Lauderdale County relied on quickness.
Amid a second-half shooting drought that saw Madison Academy pull within one with 2 minutes to play, the Tigers pulled the ball out, relied on the quickness and dribbling ability of their guards and forced the Mustangs to foul.
Converting at the foul line down the stretch, the defending state champions punched their ticket to Birmingham with a 54-45 win against Madison Academy (21-10) in the Class 3A girls final of the AHSAA Northwest Regional basketball tournament.
Lauderdale County (31-5) will play Midfield in the state semifinals Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex arena. The winner will advance to the state championship game to face the Straughn-Holly Pond winner Saturday at 9 a.m.
“We trust the four corners,” Llewellyn said. “We use it in a game if we need to. We had let a 7- or 8-point lead dwindle down to 2 and we were having a tough time getting a good shot against their half-court defense. So we decided to pull it out and let our ball handlers run some time off the clock.”
The defending state champion Tigers suffered a 6-minute drought of going scoreless from the field during the second half until Ivy Wallen’s jumper in the lane gave LCHS a 37-31 lead with 7:29 to play.
LCHS stretched the lead to as many as eight in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs came back to pull within 41-39 on Imani Kyser’s basket at the 4:43 mark and made it a 1-point game on Lauren Hargett’s 3-pointer with 2 minutes left.
But the Tigers, relying on speedy guards Ivy and Emma Wallen, pulled the ball out during the final 2 1/2 minutes, forcing Madison Academy to foul.
LCHS made 11 of its final 12 free throws to pull away after missing seven of its first 12.
Tournament MVP Ivy Wallen scored a game-high 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while Chatara Cox added 13 and seven rebounds.
“I wasn’t trying to think about shooting as much,” Wallen said. “I was just trying to get our other shooters open. But shot were falling early.”
Emma Wallen and Karlee Brown joined Cox on the all-tournament team.
Sierra Jones overcame early foul trouble to finish with a team-high 14 points for Madison Academy.
The Tigers had 12 turnovers to the Mustangs' 15, but made the most of their opportunities, outscoring Madison Academy 15-5 in points off of them.
LCHS sank four of its first seven 3-point shots and led by as many as eight in the second quarter before taking a 26-20 advantage into halftime.
But Lauderdale County missed an opportunity to expand the lead despite Jones, the catalyst of the Mustangs’ offense, sitting out the final 3:36 of the half with three fouls.
“That hurt,” Mustangs coach Brian Privett said of Jones’ early foul trouble, “but I was proud of our girls for going into halftime down six with her sitting on the bench. There was only maybe one position where they took advantage of that. We handled their full-court pressure pretty well.”