One win from B’ham

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2006

For three quarters of their Southwest Regional semifinal against Bibb County, Demopolis looked very, very little like the team that had dominated their previous several ball games. In the fourth quarter, however, they looked even better.

The seventh-ranked Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Choctaws from Centreville 26-0 in the final period, turning what had been a tight 26-22 game after three periods into a sudden 52-22 blowout. Shawnese Armstead scored 20 points and pulled in 7 rebounds to lead the way for Demopolis.

“I wish we could have played all four quarters like that,” Demopolis head coach Tony Pittman said. “We’ve been relying on our defense to get us going by creating turnovers. We didn’t do a good job of that to start with, but in the last part of the third quarter and the fourth we really clamped down and were able to take control of the game.”

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A Lacristen Crews jumper for Bibb County with 2:44 to play in the third period capped an 8-1 Lady Choctaw run and tied the game at 22. But from there it was, literally, all Demopolis.

Katerria Johnson responded with a basket to break the tie, but it was the next possession which set the tone for the remainder of the game. Krystal Walker grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds off of missed three-pointers and after the Lady Tigers patiently worked the ball around the court, Kelli Johnson found Walker for the basket that would put Demopolis ahead by four at the quarter’s end. Demopolis held the ball for more than a minute on the possession.

“We were really rushing, I felt like, early in the ball game,” Pittman said. “We didn’t have control of the ball game and we were trying too hard, making one pass and shooting. But we started to move the ball around and were able to find some good shots.”

Pittman let the team huddle before the fourth period belong to his seniors, and appropriately enough the quarter belonged to them as well. Armstead’s steal and basket began the quarter with a bang, and the senior guard kept the momentum going with back-to-back three pointers at the5:30 mark that put Demopolis ahead 38-22 and the game out of reach. Armstead and fellow seniors Katerria Johnson and Walker combined for 24 points in Demopolis’s game-ending 30-0 run.

Armstead revealed afterwards that she had told the team in the fourth-quarter hulled that it was “Win, or go home.”

“I guess they wanted to win,” she said with a laugh. “We had beaten (Bibb County) twice in the regular season and we were overconfident … It’s my job step up. Being a senior, it starts with me. So it felt great to knock down some shots and get us going.”

Something was needed to put a spring in Demopolis’s step during an opening stretch in which Pittman said “everything that could go wrong for us, did.” Bibb led 9-7 at the end of one and stretched the lead to 14-7 on a Terlisa Bray basket with 6:18 to play in the first half as poor shooting and turnovers plagued the Lady Tigers.

A Kelli Johnson offensive rebound and score a minute later, however, sparked a 9-0 Demopolis run that gave the Lady Tigers a 16-14 halftime lead. An Armstead three-pointer would eventually extend the lead to 21-14 1:05 into the third quarter before Bibb responded to tie the game at 22.

Armstead was joined in double figures by Katerria Johnson, who added a team-high 8 rebounds to go with her 14 points. She was followed by Walker, Kelli Johnson, and Loreal Moore with 4 points each, and Jasmine Simmons, Kierra Plaskett, nd Shay Smith with 2 each. Sophomore point guard Simmons dished out a game-high 7 assists while Valissa Sams recorded a game-high 3 steals.

The win improves Demopolis’s record to 21-4 and stretches the Lady Tigers’ win streak to13 games.

Next up for Demopolis will be the 25-6 and No. 6 UMS-Wright Lady Bulldogs, who easily defeated Greensboro in the other semifinal, 68-41.

A win would give Demopolis their third consecutive trip to the 4A Final Four.

“We will have to play much better than we did today,” Pittman said. “We played them in the sub-regionals last year and it was nip-and-tuck all the way up until the last two minutes. Coach (Lindsey) Weems does a great job …hopefully we’ll be prepared. It’s going to be a great ball game.”