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Lady Bobcats win under pressure

As usual, the R.C. Hatch Lady Bobcats got their opponents’ best shot at Tuesday’s Southwest Regionals. As usual, the game came down to the fourth quarter. And as usual, the Lady Bobcats pulled through in the end.

Five days after surviving a stiff sub-regional challenge from Shades Mountain Christian, Hatch used a big four-point possession to break a fourth-quarter tie and defeat Washington County 47-43. With the win, Hatch advances to face Calera in the Regional championship for the second consecutive year

“We didn’t come out here to lose,” said Hatch coach Walter Abrahams. “We had some early foul trouble but other than that I thought we played pretty well.”

Hatch entered the fourth quarter with a 37-30 lead and with 6:34 to play still led by six, 41-35, after a Vinecia Dudley jumper. But Washington County went on a 6-0 run, capped by an Amber Speights basket with 4:34 to play, to tie the game at 41.

The Lady Bobcats responded with the biggest play of the game. Dudley connected on a six-foot jumper with 3:32 to play and drew a foul. The senior missed the free throw, but Hatch’s La’Toria Paige grabbed the rebound and scored the putback for a four-point lead.

“She just went after the rebound,” Abrahams said of the play. “She wants to get the ball under the basket.”

From there Dudley took control of the game as Hatch stalled out the clock. A Lady Bobcat turnover resulted in a Brittany Leverett transition basket that cut the lead to two with 2:01 remaining, but Dudley answered with a basket of her own 15 seconds later. Janita Essex rebounded a Washington County miss and by the time the Bulldogs got the ball back, only 21 seconds remained.

A foul sent WCHS’s Erica Donaldson to the line with 13 seconds to play, but she missed the front end of the one-and-one to seal the Hatch victory.

Hatch was paced by Paige’s 21-point, 10-rebound double-double. Dudley added 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.

“Once we get a lead, we want to get (Dudley) the ball and let her control the tempo,” Abrahams said. “She can take it herself or dish it off. If we get a lead, we can hold onto it.”

“We had a lot of confidence in the fourth quarter,” Dudley said. “We like to hold the ball and play our game, not their game.”

Hatch continued their season-long trend of playing a sluggish first half. The Lady Bobcats hit only 2 of 13 shots in the first quarter to fall behind 10-6 entering the second period. Back-to-back baskets by Paige sparked a 6-0 run midway through the second quarter that tied the game at 18, but Hatch would not score over the half’s final 3:41 and entered the break behind by a point.

The third quarter, however, was a different story. The Lady Bobcats more than doubled their first-half output in the period as Dudley, Paige, and Ahjah Mitchell combined for a 17-5 run over the final 5:33 of the quarter to turn a 25-20 deficit into a seven-point lead. Paige’s jumper with six seconds to play in the quarter gave the Lady Bobcats their largest lead at 37-30.

“Most times we’re going to start off slow,” Abrahams said. “But we play better in the second half. We played hard enough in the second half to get the lead and got the ball to Vinecia, and we won the game.”

Following Dudley and Paige for the Lady Bobcats was Mitchell with six points. Mitchell also added six rebounds while Janita Essex tied Paige for team-high rebounding honors with 10.

Leverett led the way for Washington County with 20 points and 10 rebounds.