Tharptown girls win first county title in school history

The Tharptown Wildcats made history Saturday, night winning the school’s firstever varsity girls Franklin County Tournament championship by beating Phil Campbell 34-33.

The Wildcats’ win ended the Bobcats’ streak of four straight titles. Prior to that, Red Bay held almost two decades of dominance, with Belgreen interrupting the Tigers’ run in 2010 with a title of their own.

“This is a huge win for our program and our school,” said Tharptown Coach Tanna Benford. “The girls have worked so hard to have this opportunity, and I am so proud of them. I want them to soak it in and enjoy it.

“I also want them to use it as a springboard to keep things going,” Benford added. “This was one of our goals going into this year, but we still have other goals out there we can accomplish if we keep working hard.”

Phil Campbell was not going to let go of the championship crown easily. The two teams had already met earlier in the year at Phil Campbell, when Tharptown won by 56-36, stopping a four-year period during which the Bobcats had not lost to a county team. That loss didn’t set well with the Phil Campbell girls and their coach, Craig Thomas, who vowed to approach the next meeting between the two teams much differently.

“We knew we needed to slow down Tharptown’s athleticism,” said Thomas. “We needed to keep the score low to have a chance and rely on our defense.”

Phil Campbell senior Faith Cook held Tharptown senior and leading scorer Gracie Montgomery to five points in the game and just two points in the second half. Cook, along with fellow seniors Kenner Scott and Jade Roberson, hit several key shots in a second half – with 14 lead changes or ties.

While the Bobcats’ focus was on stopping the Tharptown senior, the underclassmen stepped up for the Wildcats.

Junior center Sarah Mansell led the team in scoring with 12 points. Mansell drained two threepointers – one in the first quarter and a huge one in the fourth quarter with 2:46 to go in the game – giving the Wildcats a 32-31 lead in a game where points were at a premium.

Mansell also had four blocked shots but none bigger than the one that came as time was expiring. With Tharptown clinging to a 34-33 lead, Phil Campbell’s Scott drove down the right side of the lane and attempted a short floater. Mansell extended her long arm into the air and swatted the ball away, sealing the win.

Wildcat junior forward Savannah Romans scored 10 points, including six big points in the third quarter, all on assists from junior point guard Autumn Montgomery. Romans scored with 5:21 to go in the third quarter to give the Wildcats an 18-17 lead, and she scored again at the 2:12 mark to tie the game 20-20 – and again with 28 seconds to go in the quarter to give Tharptown 24-23 lead.

Autumn Montgomery scored five points, but with 58 seconds to go in the game, she drove through the left side of the lane and made a layup that ended up being the gamewinning shot.

Junior Kaitlyn Simmons hit a shot with 5:26 to go in the game to tie the game 28-28.

Scott led Phil Campbell in scoring with 14 points. She was followed by Hannah Welborn with six points, Cook with five points, Roberson with five points and Madison Branch with three points.

Semifinals: Tharptown 53, Red Bay 40

Gracie Montgomery scored 21 points to lead the top-seed Tharptown Wildcats past the Red Bay Tigers 53-30 in the semifinals of the Franklin County Tournament on Thursday. She nailed five three-pointers, two from near NBA range, to spark the Wildcats in the second half.

Red Bay’s Emma McCollister drained a three-pointer as time expired in the first quarter to give the Tigers a 13-12 lead. Shaily Warren made another three early in the second quarter to give the Red Bay girls their biggest lead of the game 16-12.

Gracie Montgomery made another three and got a steal and layup to help the Wildcats reclaim the lead 17-16 with 4:35 to go in the first half. She added another three to give Tharptown a 20-16 lead. The Wildcats led 28-20 at halftime.

Red Bay’s Kaylie Lindley hit a jumper near the free throw line to cut Tharptown’s lead to 31-28 early in the second half, but Gracie Montgomery continued to spark the Wildcats, giving them a 40-30 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Autumn Montgomery and Mansell followed Gracie Montgomery with 14 points each. Simmons added three points and Romans two points.

Madeline Ledbetter led Red Bay with 11 points. Lindley scored nine points, McCollister seven points, Amber Mason six points, Warren three points and Jaycee Vinson and Ashlyn Deaton two points each.

Semifinals: Phil Campbell 29, Belgreen 19

Late full court pressure and defense helped the Phil Campbell Bobcats avoid a semifinal upset, beating Belgreen 29-19.

Phil Campbell led Belgreen 10-7 at the end of the first quarter, but in the second quarter, the scoring came to a screeching halt. Each team scored four points in the second quarter to give the Bobcats a 14-11 lead at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Belgreen’s Dacota Green drove the lane, drew a foul and drained both free throws to give the Bulldogs their only lead of the game, 15-14.

The game would be tied 16-16 midway through the third quarter, and the Bobcats would limit the Bulldogs to three points for the rest of the game.

Back-to-back scores by Hannah Welborn and Madison Branch gave Phil Campbell a 20-16 lead in the closing minute of the third quarter.

Belgreen’s Noelle Willingham made a layup to open the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 20-18, but Phil Campbell’s full court pressure generated back-to-back baskets by the Bobcats to extend their lead to 24-18.

Scott led Phil Campbell with 12 points. She was followed by Welborn with six points, Branch with four points, Cook with three points, Allie Herring with two points and Roberson with two points.

Green led Belgreen with five points. Willingham and B.B. Scott scored four points each. Alayna Tate had three points and Isabella Tate two points.

Quarterfinals: Red Bay 57, Vina 42

Kaylie Lindley scored 23 points to lead the Red Bay Tigers to a 57-42 quarterfinal victory over the Vina Red Devils in the opening game of the Franklin County Tournament.

Sara Harper led Vina with 16 points followed by Sara Scott with 14 points.