By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HANCEVILLE — Chloe Harbison was prepared to shoulder the blame for Cold Springs' 46-39 loss to Tanner in Friday's Class 2A Northwest Regional Tournament final, but longtime coach Tammy West wouldn't have it.
“I think I should've drove the basket more. I didn't take all the chances that I could,” the junior forward reeled off shortly after the tough defeat. “I should've hit some shots that I missed. They were giving me chances.”
West had heard enough, stopping Harbison short to chime in with: “You did good. You did good.”
And that's how the coach felt about all of her Lady Eagles. Just one game after gutting out a one-point thriller over No. 5 Red Bay, the Eagles jumped out to a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Rattlers answered with nine unanswered points and sank all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the last four minutes to run away with the region crown.
“I'm proud of them. They did a good job,” the coach said. “They fought hard Tuesday. I thought that was one of our better efforts on the year. I thought we played a real good second half of the season and gained a lot of experience with a relatively young team.”
West credited Tanner's go-ahead run at the end to too many turnovers by Cold Springs and too many key rebounds by the Rattlers. Tanner (15-16) bested the Eagles in both categories in the second half, scoring nine more points off turnovers and snatching six more rebounds than Cold Springs during the 16-minute stretch.
Junior Jasmine Smith was the main Tanner player to thank for those discrepancies. The forward led her squad in points (13) and rebounds (15).
“She did a great job on the boards and with scoring today,” Rattler coach Larry Greene said. “We had to have that in order to win. If we don't get that, we probably don't win this game.”
At 5-foot-10, Smith's inside presence caused problems for the Eagles' tall twosome — Caitlyn Hall (6') and Harbison (5'9”).
Hayden West felt Cold Springs should've been adequately prepared to compete against a player of Smith's size.
“We've played teams that have girls that were taller than her,” she said. “We just didn't execute on what we needed to do. We didn't box out or rebound as well as we should have.”
Despite Tanner's lockdown defense on the perimeter, Harbison still found ways to drive to the basket throughout the contest. The junior finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, which didn't go unnoticed by the Rattlers' Greene.
“We had some problems matching up with her,” the coach said. “A lot of times, we did not come off quick enough to stop her penetration. She's just a very good player off the dribble when she penetrates.”
The Eagles, which finished 22-8, will only lose two seniors to graduation this May — West and Haven Watson. They spent most of the season in the top 10 of the state's 2A rankings and will likely make an appearance on the list when it debuts late next fall due to the young talent they'll be returning.
“I think that we've grown as a team,” Harbison said. “I hate that we won't have Hayden (West) back, but I think this has taught us a lot, and we'll come out next year just stronger.”
Tanner's Sydney Houston picked up eight points, six rebounds, three steals and All-Regional Tournament MVP honors. She was accompanied on the All-Tourney Team by Samara French, 11 points, and Smith.
Hall and Haley Freeman scored eight and seven points, respectively, for Cold Springs despite limited playing time in the second half because of foul trouble. Bailey West came off the bench for one 3-pointer and six points, while Karlee Perdue pitched in five points and Hayden West, three.
Hayden West represented the Eagles on the All-Tournament Team. Kasey Sparks did the same for Red Bay.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.