Talladega County Central 65, Valley Head 54: Lady Fighting Tigers reach Elite 8 for first time since 2004

Elite 8 bound

Faith Johnson led the Lady Fighting Tigers with 20 points against Valley Head on Thursday.

JACKSONVILLE -- Talladega County Central High School’s girls basketball team defeated Valley Head 65-54 on Thursday in a Class 1A  Northeast Regional Tournament semifinal at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State University.

With the win, TC Central snapped a five-game losing streak in the regional tournament and earned its first Elite 8 berth since 2004.

The Lady Fighting Tigers will take on Spring Garden on Monday at 3 p.m. in the region championship game. The regional winner advances to the Final Four in Birmingham.

“It is a great feeling,” TC Central head coach Robert Duncan said. “The girls worked really hard to accomplish this, and we are not done yet. It is definitely gratifying to get past this hump. We have worked so hard over the years just to get here. 

“I am grateful for the effort that the girls gave tonight. I think that we got winded in the fourth quarter, but we were able to pull it out at the end.”

One of the keys coming into the game for TC Central was getting off to a fast start, and Duncan’s team did. The Lady Fighting Tigers jumped out to an 8-4 advantage behind the play of Amiya Sillmon, who scored four quick points off the bench.

Jamiya Whitson nailed a 3 to help the Lady Fighting Tigers end the first quarter with a 13-9 lead.

Valley Head stayed within four points through most of the second period, but TC Central closed out the half on a 7-0 run to take a 38-27 lead into intermission. 

Whitson scored five of those points, including a layup to make it 36-27.  Faith Johnson ended the half with a layup off a Whitson steal. 

“That was definitely a late boost,” Duncan said. “We were playing with energy at the time, and I think that turned the tempo of the game in our favor. I think the girls really turned it up to close that half out. Hats off to our girls' effort to be able to do that at that particular time of the game.”

TC Central increased the margin to 16 points in the third quarter and enjoyed a 51-39 advantage going into the final period.

The Lady Tigers rallied during the final eight minutes, cutting the lead to 60-54, but Alisha Morris scored four straight points to increase the margin to 10.

Johnson added a free throw in the final seconds to seal the win.

Four to know

- Johnson led the Lady Fighting Tigers with 20 points. Whitson scored 10 of her 12 in the first half. Sillmon went 5 of 6 from the field for 10 points in 12 minutes of action. DeVona Gover chipped in eight points and 11 rebounds. Danyia Maple recorded five steals.

- Kallie Ingram led the way for Valley Head with 25 points. Teammate Bailey Carter had 11 points and 16 rebounds.

- One of TC Central’s points of emphasis going into Thursday’s game was closing on Valley Head’s shooters. The Lady Fighting Tigers succeeded at that, forcing Valley Head into a 1-for-18 showing from behind the arc.

- TC Central scored 22 points off 21 turnovers. The Lady Fighting Tigers scored 12 fast-break points.

Who said

- Whitson on her fast start: “I am glad that my shots were falling. I usually play bad in the first quarter. I am glad that we are able to make it to the second round of regionals in my final year on varsity.”

- Valley Head head coach Jamie Vest on shooting 1-for-18 from behind the arc: “I’m guessing that their defense had something to do with us not being on. I knew coming in that we were going to have to be able to hit shots. We worked on four out, which we have ran all year. Maybe it was the new arena and shooting on those goals. I am not going to make any excuses, we should have hit them. They didn’t fall and that’s what we banked on all year kicking the ball out for key shots and hitting them.”

Up next

TC Central (23-9) takes on Spring Garden in the championship game of the 1A Northeast Regional Tournament on Monday at 3 p.m.

Spring Garden (32-2) defeated Skyline 66-37 on Thursday. 

TC Central fell to Spring Garden 59-15 in 2016 in the Sweet 16.