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Hitting their stride

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the No. 7 Demopolis Lady Tigers are hitting on all cylinders right now. It looks like they’re hitting on all cylinders, plus a few extra.

Behind a three-point barrage from senior guard Shawnese Armstead and the Lady Tigers’ usual brand of withering defense, Demopolis cruised to a 54-21 win over visiting Escambia County Thursday night in the sub-regional round of the 4A playoffs. With the win, Demopolis advances to the 4A Southwest Regional tournament in Mobile next week.

The Lady Tigers, now 20-4 on the season, will take on familiar foe Bibb County, 50-46 winners over Montevallo. Demopolis has now qualified for the girls’ Regionals every year since 2000.

“We had great energy tonight, on both ends,” said Demopolis head coach Tony Pittman. “We worked really, really hard to limit them to one shot and take away what they wanted to do. They wanted to push the ball, but our ability to score slowed them down and our post players controlled the paint … It was a total team effort. I’m so proud of them.”

The visiting Lady Devils took advantage of some early wayward shooting by Demopolis to claim a 3-2 lead three minutes into the first quarter, but from there it was all Lady Tigers. Demopolis closed the quarter on a 9-1 run highlighted by back-to-back blocks by center Kelli Johnson that brought cheers from the home crowd.

The second quarter belonged to Armstead as the senior scored 11 straight Demopolis points, connecting on three consecutive three-point shots as the lead ballooned to 26-7 at halftime. After giving up the basket to fall behind 3-2, the Demopolis defense held the Lady Devils without a field goal for the final 12:47 of the half, limiting ECHS to four free throws.

Escambia finally broke their field goal drought less than a minute into the third quarter and scored three consecutive baskets between the 4:36 and 3:27 marks to trim what had been a 25-point lead to 34-15. But DHS’ Jasmine Simmons drained a three 30 seconds later to end the run and propel Demopolis on a 10-0 spurt of their own, giving the Lady Tigers’ their largest lead at 44-15 and putting the game well beyond all doubt.

Armstead finished with 20 points to lead all scorers.

“Shawnese did an outstanding job tonight,” Pittman said. “She opened things up for our post players by hitting some threes and making it easier on them. That’s a shot she’s worked on and it’s coming through for her at the right time.”

Pittman also praised his team for doing some of the little things, like forward Katerria Johnson’s efforts in breaking the Lady Devils’ full-court press and the effort shown by bench players Kierra Plaskett, Shay Smith, and Valissa Sams as they entered the game.

“They also did an outstanding job. When they came in, our energy level actually went up,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been asking from them all season … With (Sams), she wants to guard the other team’s best player. Most players are worried about offense, but she wants to play defense … they brought great energy.”

Following Armstead on the scoresheet for Demopolis were Katerria Johnson with 12 points, Simmons with 7, Krystal Walker with 5, Kelli Johnson with 4, Plaskett with 4, and Smith with 2. Katerria Johnson led the team with nine rebounds while Kelli Johnson recorded a team-high four blocks.

Demopolis will face Bibb next Thursday, Feb. 23, at noon on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile. DHS swept both games from the Lady Choctaws during the regular season, winning 52-22 in Demopolis Dec. 2 and 48-31 in Centreville Jan. 31.

The winner of the Demopolis-Bibb game will face the winner of the regional semifinal between No. 6 UMS-Wright and Greensboro Saturday, Feb. 25, at 12:20 p.m.