Sunshine girls one step from B’ham

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Some teams–especially young teams–might have been rattled to fall behind 6-0 in the first quarter of their Regional semifinal. The Sunshine Lady Tigers might be young, but they’re not one of those teams.

The Area 8 champions outscored the McKenzie Lady Tigers 36-19 to close the first half and never looked back, cruising to a 56-39 win in Monday’s Regional semifinal. With the victory, Sunshine advances to the Regional final for the second consecutive year.

“It was an exciting game,” said Sunshine head coach Phillip Wagner. “(McKenzie) shot the ball a little better than I expected. But we thought we could get them in trouble with our press and we got some good leadership from our senior guard.”

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That senior is Francesca Bates, who finished with 19 points, good for a tie for the game’s highest total with teammate Shafontaye Myers. Afterwards, Bates said she and the team are driven after falling in last year’s Regional final by two points to Pleasant Home.

“It really hurt last year,” she said. “We said ‘We’re going to come back and redeem ourselves.’ We’re ready for Friday. I feel like our team can go all the way.”

As usual, Bates got plenty of help from eighth-grader Myers. After McKenzie opened with their 6-0 spurt, it was Myers who coolly drained a three to cut the lead in half at the 4:03 mark of the first quarter.

McKenzie would eventually take an eight-point lead on a Candis Davison three-pointer with 2:44 to play, but behind Bates, Myers, and a ferocious Sunshine press the Lady Tigers outscored 10-0 over that final 2:44 to lead 16-14 at the end of one. Sunshine would go on to extend the run to 20-0 and the lead to 26-14 on a Myers basket with 5:46 to play in the half.

McKenzie didn’t go quietly, responding with an 8-0 run of their own to pull with six at 28-22. But Myers closed out the half with two baskets in five seconds, the last coming just ahead of the buzzer after another backcourt steal, to send Sunshine in at the break ahead 36-25. Myers finished with a game-high eight takeaways.

“We needed it,” Myers said of her big plays to end the half. “We had to play to win.”

McKenzie would come no closer than nine points in the second half as the Sunshine defense held the Lady Tigers to nine third-quarter points and five fourth-quarter points.

Bates finished with 19 despite shooting only 4-of-16 (25 percent) from the field, thanks to a 10-of-12 performance from the free throw line.Myers got her 19 on 8-of-16 shooting. The two leading scorers were followed by JohnQuesha Childs with 15 points, Sherrena Carter with 2 points, and Cortney Lathen with 1 points. Bates and Lathen shared the team lead with 6 rebounds each.

With the win, the Lady Tigers advance to take on McIntosh Friday at 9 a.m. for the right to advance to Birmingham. The game will be a rematch of last year’s Regional semifinal which Sunshine won. McIntosh has lost only one game all season and is ranked No. 5 in 1A, but Wagner says his team isn’t intimidated.

“McIntosh has a great team,” he says, “They run the floor really well. (But) I don’t think they’ve seen pressure like our pressure. We have to not turn the ball over and rebound.”