Anniston’s and Handley’s girls got through expected routs in Tuesday’s first round of the 4A, Area 8 tournament at Anniston. Things get harder from here.
Anniston (22-5) beat Saks 70-23 and will play Handley on Friday at 6 p.m. Handley beat Munford 68-25 in Tuesday’s tourney opener.
Anniston and Handley also advanced to sub-regional play and will cross with Area 14. Madison Academy and Madison County will play in Thursday’s Area 14 final.
Winners play host to losers. Nobody wants to go to Madison Academy to play a win-or-go-home game for a berth in the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State.
“I definitely don’t want to have to go up there in Huntsville,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said. “I’d like to play at home. Anniston is home, and Jacksonville is home.”
Anniston swept its regular-season matchups with Handley, winning 62-53 and 63-32.
“Handley’s got a pretty tough team,” Bullock said. “We’ve been fortunate to beat them twice, but I don’t take nobody for granted. Anybody can beat you on any given night.”
Anniston led Saks 21-3 through one quarter, 44-9 at halftime and 57-17 going into the fourth quarter. Allasha Dudley hit two 3-pointers en route to a game-high 16 points, Toniah Foster added 14 and Tekyia Jackson 12.
Miracle Dennard, Saks’ lone senior, led the Wildcats with nine points in her final high school game. She was part of a Calhoun County championship team and regional finalist as a sophomore.
“I can’t say enough about that kid,” Saks coach Michelle Morgan said. “She’s stuck with me through good times and bad times. I would’ve been easy to quit, like some of her teammates have done in the past.
“She worked hard and became a better leader. She’s not even really a scorer, and she’s not even a point guard, but she steps into the roles.”
Saks, which reclassifies from 4A to 3A starting in the next school year, finished 5-16. The Wildcats won three straight games to finish the regular season before falling Tuesday.
“We won three out of four, so that’s the kind of basketball team you can expect to see next year,” Morgan said. “Especially with us being in a smaller classification, with schools we can really compete with, I think we’re going to start out being and underdog, but we’ve got a chance to be one of the top dogs.”
Handley 68, Munford 25: After watching her team eke out a 64-54 victory Munford Jan. 9, Handley coach Courtney Strain had a singular focus in practice — defense.
“That’s all we’ve worked on since we played Munford about a month ago, because our defense was terrible,” she said. “We’ve been preparing for this, basically, since we played Munford the last time, because lose here, and we’re done.”
Handley (14-7) held Munford to 14 first-half points and four in the third quarter.
Munford (11-15) played without center Justine Calhoun, who sustained a season-ending knee injury since the Lions’ last meeting with Handley.
Handley’s Te’Nequa Rhodes scored a game-high 23 points, and Myrical Heard added 16 en route to earning the Tigers a third shot at Anniston.
“It’s tough,” Strain said. “You can’t put all of your focus on any one player or any one position. Most of this year, we’ve had to put our focus on post players, but their guards are just as good.
“It also doesn’t help that I’m bigger than all of my players, so it’s hard to guard big post players.”
Munford got 11 points from A McKenzie. The Lions will lose seniors Kennedy Reeves, Kamara Sudduth and Tatanna Johnson.
“We had a great season, considering I didn’t have a summer with them,” Munford coach Nick Butts said. “We just had two weeks of practice. The seniors kind of led this program this year.
“Going into next year, we’ll be in an area with Clay Central and Sylacauga. This group of girls I’ve got coming up, I think we’ve got a chance to win it.”