Belgreen tops THS in double-overtime thriller
BELGREEN – The Belgreen girls are one win away from their first regional berth since 2003 after surviving a scare from Tharptown in the Class 1A, Area 15 championship game Saturday night.
Belgreen (22-3), the top seed in the area tournament and the sixth-ranked team in Class 1A, beat the second-seeded Lady Wildcats (16-11) 68-65 in a thrilling double-overtime contest that was the third meeting for the two county rivals this season and featured six lead changes and six ties.
"There's no words to describe this type of game," Belgreen coach Shauna Humphries said. "I know it's entertaining for the fans, but it's nerve-wracking for a coach. It's hard to beat a team three times during a season, and they played a great game against us."
In a physical game in which three Tharptown starters and two Belgreen starters fouled out, the Lady Bulldogs were clutch at the free throw line by making 27-of-39 attempts, while the Lady Wildcats finished 13-of-23. Martha Billingham, who was 7-of-8 at the line, and Loren McVicker, who converted six of her nine attempts, combined for 13 of Belgreen's 18 points during overtime.
"We've worked a lot on our free throws this year," Humphries said. "When you get to this time of year, free throws are going to be a crucial part of the game, and we've got to be able to hit them. We missed some (during regulation), but our players did a great job of making them during overtime."
In the fourth quarter, Belgreen, which led 21-16 at halftime and forced 24 turnovers, held a 50-45 advantage with 38.8 seconds remaining after Tharptown missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer and McVicker hit two free throws.
But Tharptown, which lost point guard Chelsea McCluskey early in the third quarter after she drew her fifth foul, rallied as sophomore shooting guard and backup point guard Kendra Baker drilled her third trey of the game near the top of the key. The Lady Wildcats tied the game at 50 as senior forward Hollie Hines converted two free throws after drawing a fifth foul from Belgreen point guard Deborah Billingham with 10.6 seconds left.
At the end of the first overtime, which began by Tharptown scoring a field goal for Belgreen, the Lady Wildcats took a 59-58 lead with 15.8 second left after Hines came up with a steal and found Baker for a short jumper in the paint. But then McVicker saved an errant pass, drew Hines' final foul and made a free throw to tie the game at 59 and send the game into another extra period.
In double overtime, Tharptown's Beth Lane scored a driving layup to tie the game at 61, but then Martha Billingham hit two more free throws and Belgreen never trailed again.
Tharptown coach Chad Green said in spite of the result, he was proud of his team, which plays at No. 3 Hazlewood Thursday. The winner will earn a berth in the Northwest Regionals in Hanceville.
"The bench had to do a good job tonight, and they stepped up for us," Green said. "We missed some free throws early, but Hollie Hines did hit some big ones to put us in overtime.
"I told them in the locker room that I was proud of them … that was probably the best game I've been involved with. Although it's tough to be on the losing end, I was proud to be a part of it."
McVicker had 18 points and two blocks for Belgreen, while Deborah Billingham added 17 points and four assists. Martha Billingham had 13 points and three steals, and Amber Smith finished with nine points, three steals, two assists and a block.
Hines led Tharptown with 25 points, 20 rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Baker had 17 points and McCluskey added 10.
Belgreen will host Decatur Heritage Thursday, and the winner will advance to the regional tournament Feb. 17 at Wallace State.