By Loyd McIntosh, For The Tribune
HANCEVILLE – The Clay-Chalkville girls’ basketball team punched their ticket to the next round of the Alabama Girls 6A State Tournament following an authoritative win over Muscle Shoals Friday morning, 65-44.
The Lady Cougars improved to 23-7 on the 2022-23 season as they had no trouble with an under-matched Lady Trojans squad in a Regional Semi-Final contest held at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.
The Lady Cougars established their dominance early jumping out to an early 22-6 lead after the first quarter. Clay-Chalkville established their presence inside early, creating high-percentage shot attempts in the paint instead of relying on long-range shooting. The Lady Cougars only attempted eight three-pointers, sinking three.
Defensively, the Lady Cougars’ athleticism and pressure defense shut down the Lady Trojans’ offense and were dominant on the boards as they hauled down 31 total rebounds, 23 of them on the defensive end of the floor.
“We just felt like, going in, that there were some things we could do to give them problems, kind of spread them out and attack them off the dribble and were able to be successful at that,” said Clay-Chalkville Girls Head Basketball Coach Kevin Scott.
“Defensively we’ve been playing well for a while and were able to hold the six points n the first quarter,” Scott added. “That first-quarter lead was the difference in the ball game.”
The Lady Trojans did manage to keep things close at times and outscored the Lady Cougars in the second and fourth quarters. However, another dominant third quarter in which Clay-Chalkville outscored Muscle-Shoals ensured the outcome was never in doubt. Connor chalked early foul trouble to junior point guard Cameron Sanders as one of the factors Muscle Shoals was able to keep things interesting.
“(Sanders) had two fouls, but I trust her, so I said, ‘I’m going to leave you out there that you play,'” explains Connor. “She picked up a third foul called about three minutes to go in the second quarter, and that really hurts our team because she’s the engine that makes us go.”
Leading the way for the Lady Cougars was junior center, Kamoriah Gaines. The University of South Alabama commit went 10-14 from the floor and sank three of her four free throw attempts for 23 points, had nine rebounds, and one blocked shot.
“She just does so much for us from rebounding to defending and protecting the rim, taking a lot of pressure off our girls,” Connor said. “They know we can always drop the ball to her and if we miss a shot she’s always there to get putbacks.”
Junior Brooklyn Phillips also had a standout performance with 13 points and three rebounds.
With the win, Clay-Chalkville advances to the Northwest Regional Final to take on Hazel-Green at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, February 22, in what will be the Lady Cougars’ toughest challenge of the season. Defending state champions Hazel Green has won five state titles in a row, are one of the top teams in the nation and come into the matchup with Clay-Chalkville with a 28-1 record.
Scott knows his Lady Cougar squad has its work cut out for them but is confident they can hang with the Lady Trojans.
“They are the gold standard of basketball in Alabama. I mean, everybody knows to win a state championship, you have to go through Hazel Green, and we look forward to the challenge,” said Connor.
Connor said the key to victory over Hazel Green will be playing solid defense, especially inside the paint.
“The game plan going in is to control the paint. Don’t let them get easy ones, box out, and rebound the basketball,” said Connor. “If we go in there and do what we’re supposed to do inside, defend and rebound in the paint, we’ll have a shot to be successful Wednesday.
“We’re not going out there just to go play, Hazel Green. We’re going with the mindset to win the basketball game,” Green added. “That’s the goal and that’s going to be our mindset. And I’ve got no doubt my girls are ready to take on that challenge.”
The Clay-Chalkville Lady Cougars face the Hazel Green Lady Trojans at 9 a.m., Wednesday, February 22 at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.