Belgreen rallies from first-half deficit, hangs on to beat Hackleburg 60-56
HANCEVILLE – The Belgreen varsity girls basketball team returned to the Northwest Region Tournament Wednesday for the first time since 2003 and earned a 60-56 victory against Hackleburg to clinch a spot in the finals.
Belgreen had to rally twice in the first half and hold off a surging Hackleburg offense in the closing minutes to earn the victory.
"I am extremely proud of the girls," said Belgreen coach Shauna Humphries. "We've got a couple struggling from major illness."
The Lady Bulldog offense struggled early in the game as Hackleburg built an 8-3 lead in the opening quarter. Belgreen found a little bit of rhythm and tied the score 11-11 heading into the second period of play.
The Lady Panthers opened the second with a 6-2 run as Belgreen's Amber Smith was forced to sit most of the quarter with three fouls. With Smith out, Belgreen found a way to get the offense rolling and took a 30-24 lead into halftime.
"We knew we had to step it up," Smith said about Belgreen's effort.
She led by example in the third quarter, scoring 14 points and extending Belgreen's lead to 15 points by the end of the quarter.
The momentum quickly swung back to Hackleburg's favor in the fourth as the Lady Panthers outscored Belgreen 22-11 in the final period.
Hope Hudson nailed a 3-pointer to cut the Hackleburg deficit to 55-48 and Cindy Kivette added another basket to pull the Lady Panthers within five points.
Belgreen drew a foul on the play, but missed the first shot of a one-and-one. Loren McVicker grabbed the rebound and scored to give the Lady Bulldogs a 57-50 lead.
Hackleburg continued to chip away at the lead as Belgreen struggled to hit free throws and closed the deficit to 58-56 before Deborah Billingham and Smith hit one free throw each to ice the game.
"After everybody kept missing (free throws), there was more pressure," Smith said.
Humphries said the Lady Bulldogs try to practice free throws in pressure situations, but it is difficult to replicate the type of pressure her team would encounter in the Northwest Region Tournament.
Smith scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Lady Bulldogs while Loren McVicker added 14 points including the game-winning basket.
"(McVicker) did an outstanding job and played really good defense," Humphries said. "She definitely stepped it up and played hard for us. Rebounding wise you can't ask for a better rebounder than Loren."
Also scoring for the Lady Bulldogs were Deborah Billingham (10), Martha Billingham (10) and Katelin Barber (2).
Kivette led the Lady Panthers with 24 points while Hudson added 18. Also scoring for Hackleburg were Morgan Wooten (7), Paige Pemberton (4) and Lacey Fincher (3).
With the win, Belgreen advances to the finals of the Northwest Region Tournament where it will play Hazlewood at 4 p.m. today at Wallace State Community College.
Since region play began in 1997, Belgreen has won three region titles while Hazlewood has won five. Hackleburg (1998), Carrollton (1999), St. Bernard (2000) and R.A. Hubbard (2008) are the only other teams to claim the Northwest Region title in Class 1A.