HANCEVILLE — For a moment, Athens High found its way in the Northwest Regional Class 5A girls semifinals.
The Golden Eagles pulled ahead late in the first quarter when Destiny Bailey shot a tie-breaking three-point basket, bolstered by Jasmin Lucas, who drained another shot from half court to hold the lead at the end of the period.
Unswayed, Fairfield modified their defensive system to a full-court press, resulting in a 57-49 win in the contest. With the win, the Tigers (22-8) advance to play Wenonah in the Class 5A Northwest Regional girls finals at 9 a.m. Friday.
“To be honest, it has happened to us about three or four times this year,” Fairfield coach Tamara Gills said of the buzzer-beating vault. “I always tell them at the beginning of the second, ‘Just go get the ball.’ Three or four times, there it goes again.”
Jazzmin Hicks made a quick layup to open the second quarter, helping Athens (16-15) lead 26-24 at halftime.
“We talked about it, the seniors told everybody that we had to play hard, that we had a chance to win it. All we had to do is keep playing,” Bailey said.
Despite the effort, the momentum didn’t last down the stretch.
Fairfield was paced by Amber Carey, who had a game-high 20 points. In the second half, the Golden Eagles used man-to-man defense to mark Carey and Kyla Rooks, who added 13 points for Fairfield.
“She’s a good shooter,” Bailey said. “I had to stay in front of her.”
Bailey led Athens scorers with 17 points, while Alliyah Smith recorded a double-double with 11 points and 23 rebounds.
Fairfield worked to keep the ball away from Smith, the 6-foot-2 center.
“We had to press them to keep them from getting the ball to (Smith). We had to keep it out of their hands, just full court pressure,” Gills said. “She was very tough down there, there was nothing we could do.”
Including Rooks, Fairfield had three players in double-digit scoring. Carey put up a game-high 20 points, while Ashley Rodgers scored 11. The Tigers took advantage of Athens’ 18 turnovers, which resulted in 21 points.
Athens coach Eddie Murphree said he was proud of what the team accomplished during the season. The team has not taken a regional title since 2003.
“It looked like it was coming unraveled this year, and they never got out,” he said.
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.