By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HANCEVILLE — Tammy West treats every single member of the Cold Springs girls basketball team as if they were her daughters. The coach can play the tough-mom role when needed, but mere moments after the No. 7 Eagles pulled off a gutsy 41-40 Northwest Regional triumph over No. 5 Red Bay, West was simply mom — and a proud one at that.
Hayden West, the coach's daughter and one of two Eagle seniors, went 4 for 4 from the charity stripe in the last minute to not only bring her final point total to 14 but propel the small-school powerhouse one step closer to securing a fourth state title.
“This sweet little girl right here is mine. She hit those free throws,” a beaming Coach West said while sitting beside Hayden during the postgame press conference. “Good job, baby. Mama's proud.”
Cold Springs moves on to play Tanner for the Class 2A regional crown on Friday at 3:40 p.m. The winner will head to Birmingham for the Final 48.
The Eagles (22-7) appeared to be well on their way to an easy victory over their top-10 opponent in the first half. Hayden West came out firing with two 3-pointers, Caitlyn Hall did some damage in the post and Chloe Harbison drove to the basket at-will to help the squad jump out to a 20-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Tigers (27-4), meanwhile, had trouble connecting on even the simplest of shots, missing at least five second-chance shots from right under the baskets on one of their possessions. They only put up four points in the opening eight minutes and trailed 24-16 at halftime.
“It was just so hard to get my shot off,” Red Bay's Kasey Sparks said of Cold Springs' smothering defensive effort. “It was definitely one of the more physical games because they're so big, and their post players are really good.”
The contest took a turn in the Tigers' direction out of the locker room, as Red Bay scored nine unanswered points out of the break to take a 25-24 lead. Tammy West credited the switch in momentum to the Tigers' unrelenting full-court press.
“We're just not comfortable,” the coach said. “A lot of teams that we play all year in the county and the area, we don't get pressed.”
After being outscored 13-4 in the third quarter, Cold Springs didn't take long to add five points to its total in the final frame, three on Karlee Perdue's second trey of the night and the other two on a driving shot from Harbison.
Penetrating to create shots was a lot easier for Harbison in the Eagles' first three playoff games, but the junior still found ways on Tuesday to put her head down and get the ball through the hoop against Red Bay's smothering defense. Harbison had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds by the end of the night.
“I knew it wasn't going to be easy but that's what I'm used to,” she said.
West was definitely pleased with the forward's performance.
“We've been working a lot on practice with this one, going all the way to the goal,” she said of Harbison. “She got in there and took it to 'em. I felt like she could have done it more, but she did it when she needed to.”
Perdue broke free under the rim for an easy layup to tie the score at 35-all, but Sparks made an inside shot of her own to give the Tigers the advantage once more. Cold Springs' Haley Freeman then sank two free throws for her first points of the game, setting up a thrilling finish.
With under a minute left, Freeman caught a stalling Red Bay offense off guard, poking away the ball from a Tiger right into Hayden West's hands. The senior was incidentally laid out, sending her to the charity stripe for a one-and-one.
Despite the immense pressure, West never wavered, draining both attempts, as well as another pair just 24 seconds later, to give the Eagles' an insurmountable four-point cushion.
“We go through scenarios all the time in practice,” she said. “I was just trying to put myself in one of those scenarios.”
Red Bay's Allie Kennedy rattled in a last-second 3, but it wasn't enough as the buzzer sounded, sending the Eagle faithful who made the trek to the Tom Drake Coliseum into a frenzy.
“I'm so proud of them,” Coach West said. “I told them we could do it.”
Perdue was extremely helpful with eight points for Cold Springs, while Hall contributed five and Freeman, two.
Sparks was the top Tiger with 14 points. Kennedy had 10.
Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.