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30-point first quarter propels PC girls to 13th straight win, area title

PHIL CAMPBELL - On a scale of 1 to 10, Chloe Roberson gave it a six.
 
Kallie Allen was feeling a bit more generous. She gave it a seven.
 
“I liked it,” Allen said. “It could have been better, but it could have been worse.”
 
For the record, the subject matter at hand was not Phil Campbell’s performance in Thursday night’s Class 2A, Area 14 final against Lamar County, but rather the cartwheel head coach Craig Thomas landed after the game to celebrate the Lady Bobcats’ first area tournament title since 1993.
 
“That’s a promise I made way back at the beginning of the season,” said Thomas, whose team led by as many as 24 points in Thursday’s first half en route to their 13th consecutive win, 69-50. “I told them if we won an area championship, I’d do a cartwheel. And you better believe they reminded me about it.
 
“I’ll probably be sore tomorrow,” Thomas added with a grin.
 
If he is, he’ll have nobody to blame but himself. He should have been stretching for weeks now, given how inevitable it seemed that Phil Campbell (23-5 and ranked No. 4 by the ASWA) would ultimately cut down the nets as area champ. The Lady Bobcats won their six area games during the regular season by an average margin of 33 points; they continued that dominance this week, out-scoring fourth-seeded Sulligent and third-seeded Lamar County 89-37 in the first halves of their two tournament games.
 
“It feels great,” said Roberson, a senior forward who scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in Thursday’s final and helped Phil Campbell slam the door shut after the Lady Bulldogs had climbed to within 15 late in the third quarter. “This has been one of our goals since the beginning of the year. We wanted to win the county, win the area and go to Hanceville.”
 
If the Lady Bobcats can bottle what they were brewing on offense in Thursday’s first half and crack it open a couple more times over the next two weeks, Hanceville could merely be the next stop on an even longer journey.
 
“We could go to the Final Four,” Roberson said, “and possibly win.”
 
“We could go to Birmingham,” echoed Allen, a sophomore guard who buried two threes in the opening 90 seconds on Thursday and went on to score 12 of her game-high 18 points in the first quarter. “That’s what we’re shooting for.”
 
With the operative word being shooting. The Lady Bobcats forced their customary bundle of turnovers on Thursday night (19 in the first half, to be exact), but Lamar County also beat the press on multiple occasions for fast-break buckets. The Lady Bulldogs just couldn’t keep up with what Phil Campbell was doing on the other end of the floor.
 
“We moved the ball well,” Roberson said, “and we took good shots.”
 
They connected on most of them, shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 30-point first quarter and recording an assist on 10 of their 13 made baskets—four of which came from beyond the arc (two by Allen and one each by sisters Darby and Dakota Elliott).
 
“We moved the ball well, and we got open looks,” Thomas said. “We were patient in the half-court game tonight. We did a good job of sharing the ball and finding the open man.”
 
Allen led the first-quarter charge, scoring a dozen points on 5-for-8 shooting. The Lady Bobcats consistently got touches for junior post player Abby Davis, who had six points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals by the time the game was eight minutes old. Roberson and the Elliott sisters pitched in with 12 combined points in the first quarter on 5-for-7 shooting from the field.
 
Leading 30-16 at the end one, Davis opened the second quarter with back-to-back buckets and then came up with a steal and found Darby Elliott streaking the other way for a layup to make it a 20-point game with 5:45 left in the half.
 
Lamar County trimmed the lead to 36-20, but the Lady Bobcats just kept coming: A layup by Dakota Elliott off an assist from Allen; a rebound and putback by Allen off an Elliott miss; another rebound and putback by Davis off an Allen miss; a steal and layup by freshman guard Caitlynn Mills that capped an 8-0 run and made it 44-20 at the 3:00 mark.
 
Lamar County put together an 8-2 run, but a rebound and putback by senior post player Carley Nix finished off a first half in which Phil Campbell shot 58 percent (22-for-38) from the field, recorded twice as many assists (14) as turnovers (seven), and scored 48 points—all without attempting a single free throw.
 
Even Thomas was impressed.
 
“If we can keep putting up 48 points in the first half,” he said, “we can go a long way. Our goal all year has been to score 60 points a game. We feel like we’re good enough on defense to hold teams under 60. So if we can put up 60 points, we believe we’re gonna win a lot of basketball games.”
 
To the Lady Bulldogs’ credit, they didn’t go down without a fight [which would have been easy to do, considering that their two previous meetings with Phil Campbell had resulted in beatings of 42 and 20 points, respectively].
 
“They’ve definitely improved since the first time we played them,” Roberson said.
 
Senior guard Adrienne Hudson opened the second half with six quick points for Lamar County, and then Davis picked up her fourth foul on an illegal screen with 5:40 left in the third. The Lady Bobcats lost their mojo on the offensive end, shooting just 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from the line in the quarter, with six turnovers.
 
“We had a few too many untimely turnovers in the second half,” Thomas said, “and foul trouble got us a little bit. But I thought we had some girls who stepped up after Abby had to come out.”
 
Roberson was one who rose to the occasion, ending a three-minute-plus scoring drought for Phil Campbell with a driving layup and a pull-up jumper from the right baseline to make it 54-38 with 1:55 left in the third. She converted two more layups (one off an assist from Davis, who fouled out with 7:17 left in the game, and the other off a nice feed from Darby Elliott) early in the fourth quarter, further steadying the ship.
 
“Chloe made some big shots for us when we needed them,” Thomas said. “She’s a real scrappy player for us. She never fusses, and she doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Whenever somebody gets double-teamed, she’s really good at diving to the basket.”
 
Allen also stepped up late, scoring twice during an 8-0 run just past the midway point of the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 66-45 and sealed the deal. The 5’9 guard has the length and athleticism [she blocked three shots on Thursday] to slide down and play in the high post, which she did after Davis headed to the bench with her fifth foul.
 
“It helps a lot to have someone like Kallie who can play anywhere,” Thomas said.
 
Phil Campbell finished the night shooting 55 percent from the field, with 19 assists on 32 made baskets. A 1-for-9 showing at the foul line was basically the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding night on the offensive end.
 
“Our transition game helped us,” said Thomas, whose team is now averaging 62.0 points per game on the season. “We had seen on film that [Lamar County] didn’t always get back on defense as quick as we get the ball up the floor, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
 
The Lady Bobcats were a step late at times on the press, but they still came up with 14 steals and forced 25 turnovers while holding Lamar County to 39 percent shooting (17-for-43) from the field.
 
“We were aggressive,” said Allen, who had six rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks to go along with her 18 points. “We know the press is where a lot of our points come from.”
 
Despite barely playing in the second half due to foul trouble, Davis finished Thursday’s game with 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Roberson had five boards to go with her 12 points, and Dakota Elliott chipped in with 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting and four steals. Darby Elliott added five points and five assists, and Mills also scored five. Nix and fellow senior Megan Bullock had two points apiece.
 
After climbing the ladder to snip the last piece of nylon from the rim, Thomas was surprised to learn that his team’s win streak had reached 13 games. [The Lady Bobcats haven’t lost since January 4 at home to Class 1A No. 2 Phillips, a defeat they avenged with a 63-57 win in Bear Creek on January 30.]
 
“Wow,” Thomas said. “Has it been that long? I didn’t even realize. We’ve been pushing pretty hard.”
 
They best not let up now, not with a potential showdown with third-ranked Mars Hill (21-8) looming in the Northwest Regional semifinals. First things first, though—Monday night’s sub-regional matchup with the Area 11 runner-up (either Altamont or Cleveland). It will be the final home game for seniors Roberson, Nix, Bullock and Darby Elliott (who, incidentally, is 20 points shy of 1,000 for her varsity career).
 
“It’s gonna be happy but also sad in a way,” Roberson said. “I’m gonna miss playing with these girls.”
 
It’s not over yet, of course. The list is by no means finished. The county and area championships have been taken care of, with a trip to Hanceville [it would be the third for Phil Campbell in four years under Thomas] the next box to check. After that?
 
Anything is possible.
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