NE Regional: Strain's 43 points propel Woodland to Birmingham again
by Joe Medley
Feb 22, 2014 | 6393 views |  0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodland's Shanna Strain in the Class 2A girls Northeast Regional championship game. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Woodland's Shanna Strain in the Class 2A girls Northeast Regional championship game. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILLE -- There was a time when opponents could err on one side defensively and beat Woodland teams in the late stages of postseason, hence some sad days in the Northeast Regional.

That time is long gone, a fact that showed again during Saturday’s Class 2A girls final in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.

Lanett opted to go man-to-man to guard against Woodland’s four potential wing shooters, and veteran point guard Leah Strain drove the lane relentlessly en route to 43 points as Woodland rolled 84-68.

The defending state champion Bobcats (32-1), Birmingham-bound for the third time in four years, will play Montgomery Academy in the state semifinals on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in BJCC Arena.

Woodland will take an experienced team and arguably its most well-round team to Birmingham. Four starters return from the state-title team of a year ago, and the Bobcats replaced departed senior guard Amy Strain with sophomore center Adreona Bowen in the starting lineup.

Back are wing shooters Shanna Strain, Shalyn Strain and Jaide Walker, a small forward with inside-out game. Also back is Leah Strain, a JSU signee once again making her case to be 2A player of the year, if not Miss Basketball.

The Northeast Regional most valuable player hit 15 of 17 shots and 12 of 13 free throws Saturday. She also dished out 10 assists with just two turnovers and grabbed six rebounds.

Meanwhile, the same Woodland team that hit eight 3-pointers while routing Sand Rock 82-53 in Wednesday’s regional semifinals outscored Lanett 60-40 in the paint Saturday.

Two opponents erred on different sides and got the same result in the regional tournament.

When Lanett opened in a man-to-man, anyone who has watched Woodland play in recent years knew what was coming next.

“They played us man-to-man to begin with, and we went to what we call our ‘box set,’” said Woodland coach Larry Strain, Leah’s dad and Shanna’s and Shalyn’s uncle. “Because we’re able to shoot the 3 and knock down the 3 so well, they had to pick their poison.

“They were either going to get the screen and the 3 on one side, or Leah was going to go to the basket. They chose to give Leah the basket.”

Leah Strain had 27 points in the first half.

“They were sticking out on the twins (Shanna and Shalyn Strain) and Jaide, sticking to them, and I saw it was just a one-on-one,” she said.

As much as Leah Strain got done against Lanett, she had help. Walker added 14 points, and Bowen added 12 as the Bobcats shot 66 percent from the floor.

Meanwhile, Woodland, saddled with foul troubles for Bowen and Shanna Strain, changed from its man-to-man defense and pressing tendencies and used a matchup zone to hold Lanett to 37.5 percent shooting. Miracle Mayo scored 30 points, Ataiya Bridges added 17 and Chasity Coty 11, but the Panthers (24-6) found themselves down by as many as 31 points in the second half.

They had no answer for Leah Strain on Saturday.

“We’ve played them enough,” Lanett coach Jennifer Norris said. “My girls play with them in the summer. They all know each other. They know what she does, and we know the other girls.

“If we had of packed it in, they can pop it back out to the corners. That’s the thing. They play four guards and one post, and they can knock down the shot outside. We thought about going to a zone, but we knew they’d shoot us out of a zone real quick.”

That’s not to say it was a perfect game for Woodland or Leah Strain. The senior got what she said was her second career technical foul and first since her freshman year.

It came with 2:01 left in the game.

“I guess I kind of lost my cool,” said Leah Strain, a sixth-year starter who drives and deals with contact routinely. “Every time I was trying to come up the court, she was pinching me and holding my jersey.

“I guess I shouldn’t have done that, but I just got kind of mad.”

Woodland finished off its most dominant regional showing Saturday.

A year ago, the Bobcats beat Lanett 69-43 in the final but had a tougher semifinal game against North Sand Mountain, winning 63-53. The Bobcats’ two victories at JSU in 2011 came by a combined four and seven points, one in double overtime.

“Yes, it’s the most dominant that we have ever showed, but I still think it’s the strongest region,” Larry Strain said. “The reason I say this, going in, you look at everybody’s record … us coming in 30-1, North Sand (Mountain) was 29-1 or 30-1, Lanett was 20-5, or whatever their record was, and Sand Rock had lost three games. I think it is a very competitive tournament.

“But I just felt like that some of the things that happened in this game and the Sand Rock game had to do with key players stepping it up at the same time. Basically, we forced them to choose their poison. Which one, who did you want to get hurt by? That’s what we try to do.”

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.

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Short video of Leah Strain driving to the goal and getting a basket:

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