Mike Self FCT Sports Editor
CULLMAN - Since basketball season always seems to start late around here, Jordan Dollar and her Russellville teammates are in no hurry to see it come to an end.
Dollar scored 16 points and made four of Russellville's eight three-pointers on Thursday as the Lady Golden Tigers continued their late-season surge with a 49-43 upset of Cullman in the Class 5A sub-region round.
Russellville (11-16) advances to the Northwest Regional Tournament at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, where the Lady Golden Tigers will face No. 4 Fairfield (25-6) at noon on Tuesday.
"Most of the seniors on this team have never been [to Wallace], and I've never been, so this is exciting," said Dollar, a sophomore. "We really wanted our seniors to be able to experience going down there."
Russellville's cindarella run began with an upset of Athens in the first round of the Area 16 tournament.
"We hadn't been having a very good season, so we really wanted to play well at the end and show people what we could do," said senior guard Meghan Quillen, who finished with 12 points on Thursday and made four crucial free throws in the final minute to help seal the win. "Everybody said we couldn't beat Athens, and we wanted to prove them wrong. Now we don't want to lose again."
Russellville coach James Bostick has been to the regional tournament on several occasions, most recently with Belgreen in 2002. The Lady Bulldogs won the regional championship that year en route to capturing the Class 1A state title.
Quillen and fellow senior Kala Trapp were part of that Belgreen team, and now they will return to Hanceville in black and gold.
"I've been before, but this is the first time for most of our girls," said Bostick, in his third season at Russellville. "They've worked hard, and they deserve this. I told them that we're not going down there just to show up. We're going down there to win. It's a two-game tournament at Wallace and then another two-game tournament in Birmingham [at the state finals].
"That win over Athens gave us confidence that we could play with good teams like Cullman and Hartselle, and with the way we're playing right now, I believe we can play with the teams at Wallace, too."
Cullman (19-10) led by one on Thursday before Russellville opened the second half on a 10-0 run.
Dollar sandwiched back-to-back threes in between a pair of baskets by Quinetta Phillips as the Lady Golden Tigers built a 29-20 lead midway through the third quarter.
"We were doing a lot of screening to get open shots from outside, and once we started making those it helped open things up for Quinetta inside," Dollar said.
Britnee Phillips hit Russellville's eighth and final trey of the game with 2:30 left in the third quarter to make it 32-24, but Cullman responded with a 7-0 spurt to trim the lead to one.
Quinetta Phillips answered with six points in a 10-4 run by Russellville that pushed the lead back out to 42-35 with 5:30 remaining.
The 6-foot-3 Phillips scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half, and she also held Cullman center Elizabeth Rowe to just six points.
"We switched gears a little bit on offense in the second half and tried to get the ball inside more," Bostick said. "A lot of the shots Quinetta was missing in the first half, she started making in the second half. And she did a great job on defense, too. All of them did, because that's a very good Cullman team over there."
The Lady Bearcats got within four at 42-38 with 2:03 to play, but Britnee Phillips responded with a basket to push the lead back to six.
After a basket by Caroline Weatherly trimmed the lead to four again, Quillen drained a pair of free throws to make it 46-40 with 46 seconds remaining.
A free throw by Trapp stretched the lead to seven before Colleen McDaniel's last-gasp three-pointer cut the lead to 47-43 with 20 seconds remaining.
Quillen made two free throws on the other end to seal the win.
"We came out hot in the second half, and once we got the lead we kept it," said Britnee Phillips, who finished with eight points and two three-pointers.
Dollar had two threes in the early going as Russellville jumped to a 10-7 lead, but the Lady Golden Tigers went cold as Cullman scored 10 straight points to build a seven-point lead.
Britnee Phillips broke the ice for Russellville, draining a three to make it 17-13 midway through the second quarter.
Quillen added two more threes over the final two minutes as Russellville rallied to within a point at 20-19 going into halftime.
Fifteen of Russellville's 19 first-half points came from behind the arc, continuing a recent trend that has seen the Lady Golden Tigers heat up from three-point range.
Equally important to its outside shooting was the way in which Russellville handled Cullman's full-court pressure.
After watching point guard Victoria Taylor and the rest of the Lady Golden Tigers repeatedly break the press without much trouble, the Lady Bearcats dropped back into a zone defense.
Russellville endured about a five-minute scoreless stretch midway through the first half against the zone before the threes started falling again.
After the game, the Russellville players celebrated with fans and cheerleaders on the court, anticipating next week's trip to Hanceville.