Brantley girls take down Cedar Bluff
The Brantley girls are in uncharted territory: with a win over St. Luke’s in the regional final, the Bulldogs earned a spot in the Final Four.
That alone is the deepest a Brantley girls team has ever been in the playoffs, but now the Bulldogs have a chance to bring home a state championship on Friday.
Brantley defeated Cedar Bluff 42-31 on Tuesday afternoon to move on.
The Bulldogs dominated the game early, but both teams struggled in the third quarter and Brantley held off a fourth-quarter run by the Tigers.
“I told them before the game that we had to be relaxed and come out and play the game fast, up-tempo, and they did that,” said head coach Andrew Kilcrease. “The second half we didn’t start out so great. The shots weren’t falling.”
The Bulldogs led 18-2 after the first quarter, and 30-12 at halftime.
“It’s definitely tough to stay focused if you jump out to a big lead and relax, but we managed to pull it together,” said Erica Daniels.
The Bulldogs and the Tigers only managed four points each in the third quarter, but Cedar Bluff made a run late in the game, cutting the lead to single digits.
“We had way too many turnovers, and that’s something we’ve got to fix before Friday,” Kilcrease said.
Brantley had 27 turnovers, but the Bulldogs also forced 29 turnovers from Cedar Bluff.
Amahni Upshaw led the team with 11 points, and Raven Davis added nine.
Daniels pulled down 16 rebounds, and Upshaw came up one rebound short of a double-double, grabbing nine boards.
In the regional final against top-ranked St. Luke’s, Davis and Daniels came up big for the Bulldogs with 22 and 10 points, respectively.
The Wildcats put a lockdown on Upshaw, who was held scoreless but did grab 12 rebounds.
Brantley overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to earn a 50-49 overtime victory to earn a place in Birmingham.
Trailing 20-16 at halftime, Brantley fell behind 31-18 late in the third quarter.
Davis connected on three three-pointers and Daniels hit several crucial baskets and free throws to propel Brantley on a 20-2 run and a 38-33 lead in the fourth quarter.
Up 41-39 with six seconds left in the game, St. Luke’s Jewel Hill missed a shot in the lane that was put back by Logan Smith as time expired to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Davis hit two three-pointers and three of three free throws for Brantley as the Bulldogs withstood a final shot attempt from St. Luke’s.
Davis said that even though she had struggled for most of the game, Kilcrease called her out about her shooting.
“He told me to get in the game, so I stopped crying and just shot it,” she said.
“Our team was down for a little bit, we had a team talk and coach pumped us up and we were ready to go,” said Daniels.
Daniels also said that with the Wildcats focusing on Upshaw, she felt like it was her job to step up and have a big game for the team.
In order to earn the matchup with St. Luke’s, the Bulldogs first had to face their long-time nemesis McIntosh.
The Demons and Bulldogs had faced each other the last two years in regional play and McIntosh had won those matchups.
The game remained close for the first three quarters, with Brantley leading 37-31, but the Bulldogs came out strong in the fourth quarter to pull away to a 53-40 win.
Upshaw led the team with 20 points, and Peyton Hill added 11.
Daniels also pulled down 11 rebounds in that game.
The Brantley girls will face Keith at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham for the state championship.