Bullock pointed out all the things that the No. 6 Bulldogs should have done better to Bolton as he went through the final statistics.
“We just kind of couldn’t catch our groove,” Bullock said. “We made a few too many mistakes. That’s just how it is.”
Anniston committed more turnovers and fouls, and was nearly outrebounded by the Tigers (24-6). But the biggest issue for the Lady Bulldogs was shooting.
Seeing minutes between baskets in the first half, Anniston went into halftime shooting 18.2 percent. Fortunately for the Lady Bulldogs (28-6), their defense played soundly enough that they only trailed 21-14 in a game that could have, and should have, been much more lopsided.
Then, for several minutes in the third quarter, everything changed.
In a “now or never” decision, Bullock put Kiyana Bullock on Hannah Nichols in a box-and-one defense. As Madison County’s scoring slowed drastically, Anniston was scoring on the other end, adding six points in three minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs scratched their way back to only trail 32-31 with 4:51 left in the third. But, following back-to-back baskets by Beth Maples, Anniston was back in an uphill battle.
It took several minutes, but the Lady Bulldogs came back again with Bolton making it a one-point game with 17 seconds left in third.
“Most of it was heart,” Bolton said. “You’ve got to want to get open and want the ball.”
However, Madison County coach Anthony Montague silently made a move after Bullock’s box-and-one. Courtney Binder entered the game quietly, but made news through her shooting, taking the one-point game and making it 35-31 on an old-fashioned three-point play.
“I told her that every time she touches the ball her job is to shoot the basketball,” Montague said. “I’ve been telling her that for two years now.”
But, Bolton got Anniston right back in the game with a put-back and three-point play of her own. With 3:04 remaining, Anniston had a chance to take its first lead since there were 5:26 left in the first quarter. But, as the Lady Bulldogs continued to miss shots, Binder did not.
Open on the wing, Binder drained a 3, crushing what would be Anniston’s last push to advance to its sixth time under Bullock in eight years.
“That was a killer,” Bullock said. “Part of teaching young people is that they think that you have to get it all back in one basket, and there’s no eight point play. I tell them to be patience.”
From that point on, Anniston continued to heave 3-pointers in an attempt to get back into the game, fitting in perfectly to Montague’s plan. While Bullock said he wanted the team to go inside, where it scored 24 points, the Lady Bulldogs continued to add to its 4.3 3-point percentage.
“A lot of times we run set offenses on air, and they tend to not understand that when there’s a defense out there, you have to move to the open spot against your opponent,” Bullock explained. “Part of that has to do with inexperience and part of that is basically my fault because I’ve got to find a way to make them work harder to get open for the ball.”
As the clock wound down and Madison Baggett hit five free throws for Madison County, Bolton recorded one more three-point play as a junior. She finished the game with 27 points and 18 rebounds.
“She’s a monster in there,” Montague said. “We knew that she was going to get hers.”
Madison County plays No. 10 Cherokee County on Saturday at 9 a.m. The Lady Warriors defeated Randolph 37-26 earlier in the day.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.