BIRMINGHAM — Lauderdale County took the mystery out of the Class 3A girls semifinal in the first five minutes Wednesday night.
Doing what they do best — press and run the floor — the Tigers scored the game’s first 11 points and steamrolled Midfield 71-50 as they continue in their quest to win a second consecutive state title. The win — the 900th during the two-coach tenure of Larry Sinyard and Brant Llewellyn since 1980 — came with ease. After building the early lead, Lauderdale County’s advantage never slipped to fewer than seven points and peaked at 67-33 in the fourth quarter.
Lauderdale County (32-5) will play Holly Pond (29-5) on Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex for the school’s state record 10th title in girls basketball.
Llewellyn was concerned about Midfield’s speed, quickness and athleticism before the game, but the Tigers countered with skill and precision in their execution to leave little doubt as to the outcome.
Ivy Wallen and Chatara Cox sliced through Midfield’s defense for easy baskets in transition, and the two combined for 29 of Lauderdale County’s 35 first-half points as the Tigers opened a 21-point lead.
“We knew that Midfield (21-11) was going to be the most athletic team that we had played all season, and that was true,” Llewellyn said. “We did a great job of handling their pressure and were able to capitalize on the fast break early. The biggest thing in this game was if we were going to be able to keep them from beating us off the dribble and be able to block them out and keep them from getting second and third and fourth shots.
“We did a great job of that, It was the difference in the game.”
Cox didn’t score in the second half, playing only eight minutes and finished with 18 points.
Wallen finished with 16, and Makayla Liles scored 10 points.
Gabby Nicholson scored a game-high 26 points but it came on 11 of 31 shooting. Midfield shot 32 percent from the field and made only 3 of 14 3-point attempts. The Patriots were horrid at the free-throw line as well, converting 5 of 20.
“I love playing games like that,” Cox said of the pace, which seldom was played in the half-court in the first half. She and Wallen teamed up several times on give-and-goes for easy layups against Midfield’s helter-skelter defense.
Llewellyn said he knew if the Tigers could avoid turnovers there would be fast-break opportunities, and there were.
Wallen scored eight points in the first quarter on a series of slashing moves to the basket, and Cox scored 11 points in the second quarter, all inside.
Llewellyn said he thought Lauderdale County could get some transition baskets if it could get past Midfield’s initial press. That’s exactly what happened.
“They take a lot of chances and I thought if we could get the ball out of there we could score some on the fast break,” he said. “We did a good job of keeping our head up and getting the ball down the floor.”
Emma Wallen said playing against pressure in practice helped against Midfield.
“We know where everybody is supposed to go, even when they would sub in,” she said. “Practicing with each other is the best thing we could ever do.”
Midfield coach Charles Thomas said his team had a poor-shooting night, although many of the shots were wild and off-balance.
“I thought it was absurd that they would try to press us,” he said. “We wanted to play a man full court and get in half court we would zone. They had the same kind of game plan I was going to use if we got the lead — spread the floor and come out and guard us. Throughout the year when we don’t get foul calls, we kind of get down on ourselves. That’s essentially what happened today.”
Thomas said he thought the Patriots would win the rebounding battle, but each team finished with 47 rebounds.
“The games I saw they didn’t rebound it well. They weren’t as aggressive to those rebounds,” Thomas said. “It was a different game today, and ultimately you have to be the best team for 32 minutes.”
Now, it’s on to the championship game against Holly Pond, a team Lauderdale County beat last year in regional play.
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @gregg dewalt on Twitter.