Tidmore’s intuition was correct.
No matter how many times the Lady Panthers looked as if they were going to pull away, Cedar Bluff rallied to tighten the gap. That’s when Collinsville guard Christy Cox took things in her own hands. She scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of clutch 3-pointers and a 4-for-4 performance at the free-throw line down the stretch to help the Lady Panthers hold on to a 47-42 victory.
Collinsville (11-11) advances to Saturday’s Area 14 championship game, where it will meet host Spring Garden (21-7) at 7:30 p.m. Cedar Bluff’s season comes to a close at 14-12.
“She was definitely the main cog offensively, and I thought her defense was better than it has been in a long time,” Tidmore said of Cox. “She did a good job of breaking the press, and she really got after it. She had a great game.”
Cedar Bluff coach Joe Carpenter agreed.
“She managed to get herself open and hit those shots, and they were huge for them,” Carpenter said. “It turned out to probably be the difference in the ball game.”
Both teams had a sluggish start to the game. Collinsville held an 8-2 advantage at the end of the first quarter and led 17-11 at the half.
Cedar Bluff battled back and eventually took a 25-24 lead with 1:20 left in the third quarter on a layup by Candria Dupree.
However, that would be the only lead Cedar Bluff would hold, because that’s when Cox began to take over.
Cox’s first 3-pointer of the fourth quarter stretched Collinsville’s lead to 34-27 with 7:15 to go. She banked her second trey of the quarter with 4:28 left in the contest, giving the Lady Panthers a 39-31 advantage.
“I thought Collinsville shot the ball better outside than in the previous two games against us,” Carpenter said. “I think we came out with some postseason jitters a little bit. We recovered in the second half, but unfortunately we didn’t recover enough.”
Hannah Leach led the Lady Tigers with 13 points and nine rebounds. Audrianna Hargitt added 11 points and six boards. Katie McGinnis came away with nine points and four steals. Senior Lindsey Lambert finished with six points and four rebounds.
Carpenter said he was proud of how hard the Lady Tigers fought after beginning the season at 0-5.
“At some point they had to believe in themselves,” he said. “They came together, got a game under their belt and got a little confidence in themselves. They came back and won 14 of their last 20 ball games.
“I think they exceeded their own expectations. They’re a great group of kids. They work hard. They listen. They try to do whatever you tell them to do to the best of their ability. I think they really overachieved. They did way beyond what they expected they could do.”
Marissa Solomon added 10 points for the Lady Panthers, who assured themselves of at least two more games – Saturday’s area championship and a sub-regional game.
“That one-game shot to go to Jacksonville is what you start the season wanting to play,” Tidmore said. “We put ourselves in a good position. The area championship game is just gravy. You go in there and lay it on the line. You know you’ve got another day.”
Spring Garden 61, Valley Head 43
SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin has prepared for many area tournament openers in his career, but he called Thursday night’s Class 1A, Area 14 tournament opener against Valley Head the hardest he’s gotten a team ready for in 10 years.
The Lady Panther plan was to neutralize 6-foot-4 Valley Head sophomore center Haven Downer. When Downer didn’t start the game, it threw Spring Garden off-balance by Austin’s own admission. However, the fourth-ranked Lady Panthers adjusted well and came away with a 61-43 victory, securing a spot in Saturday’s area championship game against Collinsville (11-11).
“Valley Head is a very good 1A team, and a very hard matchup for us,” Austin said. “They come over here thinking they could beat us, and they did a good job. We just made a few more shots. That was the difference.”
Senior forward Tara Mullinax led Spring Garden (21-7) with a game-high 24 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Senior guard Kelsey Turner added 17 points and 12 boards. Sophomore guard Heather Smart finished with four points, six rebounds and five assists, but even more important than her stats, Austin said, was Smart’s defense of Lady Tiger junior guard Alley Hatfield.
“Heather did a good job keeping the guard from getting the entry pass to (Downer),” Austin said. “She was really the one who kept her from scoring, by keeping the pressure on the guard. We thought we had to keep the ball out of her hands because on the game tape we had looked at, everything went through her to the big girl. Heather did a good job of stopping it before it got to her.”
Downer finished with just six points. Hatfield led the Lady Tigers (7-14) with 11 points.
Austin also praised Turner and Mullinax for their performances.
“I can’t say enough about Kelsey Turner tonight,” Austin said. “She got in foul trouble, so her numbers might have even been higher. I took her out when she got in foul trouble, but she battled and fought hard. She knocked some shots down and got us going.
“I thought Tara did a good job of finding some shots on the perimeter (she hit 3 3-pointers), and she played strong and physical inside defensively. I was proud of that.”
Before Spring Garden took control, Valley Head held a 13-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Panthers took a 34-27 lead at the break and held a 46-35 advantage at the end of the third quarter.
Caitlin Kirby added nine points for Valley Head. Payton Day finished with six points.