ALPINE -- Winterboro High School’s girls basketball team dominated the first half and went on to defeat Talladega County Central 43-32 in the Class 1A, Area 8 tournament championship game Friday.
The Lady Bulldogs swarmed the Lady Fighting Tigers defensively, taking advantage of a relatively young team’s miscues.
“The quick start was set by some motivational clips that we watched, and it was directed at the seniors,” said Winterboro coach Sheroderick Smith. “The seniors came in on a winning note. They haven’t lost to TC Central many times, starting with their seventh-grade year. So we just pointed out the history of it.
“Anslea Twymon set the defensive tone, holding Savona Garrett, who is a really good player, down to two points in the first half. As a team, we committed to getting out to a fast start because we’ve done it before. That’s what attributed to the fast start tonight.”
Forcing bad passes and mishandling the basketball plagued TC Central in the first half, and Winterboro took a 21-6 lead into the locker room.
“(For) 85 percent of our team, this is their first year being in a game of this magnitude,” said TC Central coach Robert Duncan. “They’re a young group. No excuses, but it took time for them to make an adjustment to this type of atmosphere. It took us a little while to get going.”
Five minutes into the third quarter, it appeared Winterboro would continue to build on its 25-9 lead.
But the Lady Fighting Tigers lived up to their namesake as they fought back with a 13-point run in a two-minute stretch to pull within 25-22 with 13 seconds in the quarter.
The surge coaxed a mostly quiet TC Central crowd back into the game.
“My hat’s off to our kids for the effort they put into fighting back and making a basketball game out of it,” Duncan said. “Against a good quality opponent like Winterboro, you just can’t get in that type of hole and try to come out of it. They really fought and scrapped -- just left it all on the floor and tried to battle back to get back into the basketball game.”
Winterboro senior Morgan Merritt hit a bucket at the end of the third quarter to extend her team’s lead to five.
Smith said he wasn’t shocked TC Central rallied.
“Three things went through my mind,” he said. “Why are we making silly fouls? Why did we stop playing? And why did we underestimate the rivalry of the TC/Winterboro girls side? TC has a lot of fight. That’s what rivalry games are all about -- making runs.
“TC’s future looks very bright based on tonight. It wasn’t a surprise to me that they made the run, because those girls are capable of hitting 3-point shots. I’ve seen it all season long. You have to give TC the credit because that fight sort of overtook us in the third quarter.”
The Lady Bulldogs outscored the Lady Fighting Tigers 16-10 in the final quarter to secure the win.
“We feel like Nadia Estelle and Anslea can get to the basket,” Smith said. “That’s what they did in the fourth quarter, so experience took over. Nadia recognized some mismatches, and she took advantage of it.
“We were needing Nadia to get her confidence back up because she starting the year blazing. We have to have her because if we feel like we have everybody playing well with Aniya Burroughs giving us 100 percent through the good and the bad, we just like our chances. I’m proud for Nadia this game.”
Estelle scored 17 points for the Lady Bulldogs, while Twymon finished second with 15.
Garrett finished with eight points for TC Central, but she fouled out with 2:06 remaining.
“She’s our senior leader,” Duncan said. “Savona has been starting since the seventh grade. She has given our basketball program a lot. She’s struggled with some injuries here the last few weeks and is just kind of getting back into game shape.
“She really came out and gave us her best effort. But it’s just like if you go out into war, if you’re without your captain, it just takes a little bit out of you.
“I think the girls feel a little more comfortable when she’s on the floor with them, but when she fouled out, I think the little bit of air that was left in us kind of left us.”
Devona Gover led the Lady Fighting Tigers with 11 points.
Estelle, Twymon, Burroughs and Merritt represented Winterboro as selections to the all-tournament team, with Estelle taking the MVP award. Garrett and Gover joined Lady Fighting Tiger Davionna Stockdale on the honor squad.
Victory Christian’s Ashley Kennedy and Allison Harris, Alabama School for the Deaf’s Te’chana Dunklin and Kristen Lathan, and Wadley’s Tori Brown also made the all-tournament team.