Lady Tigers outshine Akron for regional title
By Jeremy D. Smith
MONTGOMERY — Sunshine (22-1) withstood an early Akron assault and overcame first quarter jitters to march to a 54-38 victory and win the Class 1A Central Regional Tournament for the second consecutive year Thursday afternoon.
Akron’s Raven Fields scored the first bucket of the game with a three-pointer. Shafontaye Myers quickly answered for Sunshine, but found little help early as she watched the Lady Rams charge out to an 16-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“I think the difference was they were hungry for it,” senior Johnquesha Childs said of Akron’s spirited first quarter performance, which came after the team suffered a pair of 20-plus-point November losses to Sunshine. “they came to play a different game than what we already knew. It wasn’t what we expected. We had to just overcome it.”
“I think we came out too ready,” Myers, who has never lost to Akron in her six-year varsity career, said. “We had to calm down. It seemed like some of us were just anxious. So we had to take it slow. They came out playing. They wanted to beat us. They were very hungry.”
The early onslaught saw Akron key on Myers while still finding a way to frustrate her teammates. The Lady Rams led by as many as 11 before Sunshine began to find any semblance of offensive rhythm.
“We knew we had a game plan that was going to shock them We were going to give (Myers) something,” Akron coach David West said. “She hit three three-pointers and we still had a 10-point lead.”
“I knew we were going to have a let down that first half,” Sunshine head coach Phillip Wagner said. “It’s hard to continue to beat a team three times in the same year. I don’t think we’ve lost to Akron since Shafontaye has been on the varsity team and that is since she was in the seventh grade.”
Akron seemed cognizant of that fact in the game’s early going, taking to the Lady Tigers with a physical approach that stymied the Sunshine post players for much of the first half.
“I really believe today, they came in the game excited to play (Sunshine) and it really showed in the first half,” West said. “They came in ready to show (Sunshine) they could beat them, that they had the talent.”
The emotion fueling the Akron engine waned in the second quarter as Myers found her stroke, scoring 14 points in the period. With just over a minute to go in the half, Sunshine switched to a full-court press following a converted field goal. Myers intercepted the inbound pass just above the top of the key, drove the lane, ducked her head and absorbed the foul as she deflected the lay-up in off the glass. That gave the Lady Tigers their first lead of the game at 23-22 with exactly one minute left on the second quarter clock. Myers knocked down the ensuing free throw and Sunshine scarcely looked back. By halftime, the lead was 26-22. Before the fourth quarter began, it was 42-35.
While her teammates struggled putting the ball in the basket, the Central Regional Tournament MVP Myers overcame her early shooting woes to score 33 of her game high 40 points from the field.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers shifted into ball control mode. West called a timeout with 2:42 to play and his team down 11. After the stoppage, Sunshine put the ball in Myers hands. The Alabama commit proceeded to conduct her own ball handling clinic, dribbling back and forth from one sideline to the other, down to the baseline and back again. At one point during the individual display, Myers split a triple team with a crossover to break free again. By the time Akron penned her in near the halfcourt line and forced her to call a timeout, she had personally run the clock down to the 1:17 mark and effectively iced the game.
Childs was Sunshine’s second leading scorer with five points, earning all-tournament distinction following her 16-point, six-rebound performance in the first round. The win advances Sunshine to the Class 1A semi-finals where they will play Tuesday at 9 a.m.
“Going into Birmingham, we’re just going to have to lay everything on the line that first game,” Wagner said.
“We have to calm down and not get so nervous,” Myers said of the team’s forthcoming trip to the BJCC. “We’ve been here before. We’ve got to keep God first. It’s ours. We just have to go get it.”