By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Shortly following last season’s 55-43 Northwest Regional final loss to Lauderdale County, Taylor Terry walked off the court with a mixed bag of emotions.
The Holly Pond senior was a little sad and a little regretful, but above all else, she was filled with admiration for her team’s determination despite the crushing defeat.
“I really felt like we gave it everything we had,” Terry said. “I thought we could have played better at times, but I was proud of our effort.”
Terry and her Bronco teammates will get the ultimate chance at redemption when they take on the defending-champion No. 2 Tigers again, this time for a Class 3A state championship.
“We’ve put in the work all season,” Terry added. “I have great confidence in our team that we can win.”
Coach Scott Adams recalled the long bus ride following his squad’s heartbreaking defeat last February.
“I told them that if they wanted to play them again, it’d have to be in the state finals the next year,” he said. “It’s really incredible how it worked out like that.”
Like Terry, Adams said he thought his team played excellent in the last meeting between the two schools.
“We played extremely well and tied it up going into the fourth quarter,” he said. “I knew we were going to have to play at that high of a level toward the end of the game. It just didn’t work out for us.”
The No. 7 Broncos (29-5) will certainly have their work cut out for them when the curtain comes up and the lights come on Saturday morning at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
Lauderdale County (31-5) enters the contest winners of 14 out of its last 15 games, including a 21-point drubbing of Midfield in Wednesday’s state semifinal.
Adams said his team will be playing a school with a lot of tradition and with it, a thirst for and a knowledge of winning. The Tigers will be seeking their 10th state title.
“When you think of Lauderdale County, you think of girls basketball,” he said. “They have more state championships and finals appearances than any other team in any other classification in the state.”
Holly Pond heads into its final game of the season as a slight underdog, a position the Broncos haven’t had to experience for quite some time. However, Adams isn’t too worried about labels entering Saturday’s big game.
“I know we are (underdogs),” he said. “They are playing for their second-straight title. But our girls have played in big games, too. They’ve played in Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four games. They know what it takes to win as well.”
The coach also thinks the underdog status could be a calming factor on his team’s nerves.
“I think the pressure will be off of us Saturday,” he said. “Against Straughn, I thought we were the favorites, but maybe we will be able to play a little more relaxed against them.”
One of the main keys to victory will be every facet of team defense, according to Adams. Holly Pond has given up just 34, 39 and 30 points in its previous three games coming into the title tilt. To be crowned champions, that trend will need to continue against the Tigers.
“For our length to be effective on their guards, we have got to stay in front of them,” Adams said. “We have got to get back and set up our half-court defense. Our transition D has got to be on point as well.”
Lauderdale County will attack with the Wallen triplets — Emma, Ivy and Ella — and will also receive inside contributions from Karlee Brown and Chatara Cox, who poured in 18 points against the Broncos last season.
Terry said she’d be tasked with guarding Cox on Saturday.
“I’ve just got to get focused,” she said. “Do that and play good, hard defense.”
Adams, on the other hand, is slightly more concerned with freshman Emma Wallen, who knocked in 14 against Holly Pond en route to taking home All-Tournament MVP honors during last year’s regional tourney.
“I’m amazed at the amount of basketball savvy they all possess for being so young,” Adams said. “They are really quick and like to penetrate and pass the ball. We are going to have to work hard to keep them out of the lane.”
The Broncos are confident they’ll be up to each challenge, though, and are looking to make school history by bringing home their first state championship in any sport.
Terry, a four-year starter, will be playing her final game in a Bronco uniform on Saturday but said she hasn’t really spent much time mulling over the moment.
“I think because of the hype, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” she said. “I’m sure it will, though. I’m sure it will.”
Adams knows what’s at stake for his team on Saturday, but regardless of the outcome, he’ll leave the BJCC a proud coach of what he calls “the most incredible team he’s ever been apart of.”
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” he said. “I know we have our work cut out for us, but I believe in our team. It’s a wonderful opportunity to play against a top-tier program like Lauderdale County. I’m excited, and I know they are, too.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.