E.A. Sports Today

Purple (socks) reign

Inspired Weaver tears county girls tournament brackets to shreds by stunning No. 2 Pleasant Valley in quarterfinals

Mariah Thompson was “on fi-ah’ for Weaver Thursday night, scoring 24 points, going 11-for-11 from the foul line, and grabbed 16 rebounds. (Photos by Dave Brandsma)

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Purple socks now accent the Cinderella slippers the Weaver Lady Bearcats are wearing these days after the No. 10 seed knocked off second-seeded Pleasant Valley 70-55 Thursday night.

The Lady Bearcats came out fast and put four scorers in double figures to stun their long-time nemesis and tear the Calhoun County Tournament girls bracket to shreds. Mariah Thompson scored 10 third-quarter points to help break open a tight game and stun their long-time nemesis.

The team drew inspiration from the purple socks they were wearing to honor Stacy Winn, a beloved school staff member who was killed in a car accident over the holidays.

“We just got the socks in; (purple) was Stacy’s favorite color,“ Weaver coach Gary Atchley said. “I told the girls if they were going to wear them, then they better play this one for her.”

Weaver has won six in a row, including three straight in the tournament, and now advance to the semifinals against sixth-seeded Wellborn tonight.

“We had circled this game when the brackets came out and we wanted to play Pleasant Valley to see what we were made of,” Atchley said. “They are a great team and I have so much respect for them. Some people told me that I better be careful what I wished for, but it happened we got what we wished for.

“I did not think our kids could play this well. We just keep getting better and our confidence is rising and are playing as a real team.”

Atchley has continuously said his team was not a 10-seed in the tournament and his Lady Bearcats played like a higher seed in the opening quarter. They shocked the Lady Raiders with a blazing start, beating them at their own game.

The Lady Raiders like to run, but so does Weaver and it consistently beat them down the floor and with Rayne Beck knocking home eight points the Lady Bearcats led 20-8. Beck would end the game with 12 points and five rebounds, despite being in foul trouble most of the game.

“We just made history,” Weaver guard Rayne Beck said. “Our team has not made it past Pleasant Valley ever as long as I’ve been here, so it’s just nice to … finally step forward.

“We’re winning for Winn here. At first a lot of us were kind of nervous because it’s Pleasant Valley and this was supposedly the team you’ve got to get past to get anywhere. Well, as a team I think we came together and decided this is our tournament, we’re going to take this, this is us against everybody. We’re just going to have to take it by the horns and go for it.”

Trailing 29-13 with 2:25 left in the half, something had to give if the Raiders were going to get back in the game. Mikala Simpson was the answer, as she took over the game, scoring 10 points, making three steals and hauling down four rebounds during a stretch that cut the lead from 16 to five in less than two minutes. Simpson had a double-double in the first half with 13 points and 10 rebounds and finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds in the game.

“They scared us with their run at the end of the first half, but we were lucky it came at the end of the half and we were able to make some adjustments on defense,” Atchley said. “Those guys over there can flat out score.”

Weaver’s hounding half-court defense gave the Lady Raiders fits in the third quarter and Thompson took over with Beck getting into foul trouble. Weaver went on runs of seven and eight points to blow the game open, taking a 51-32 lead after three quarters.

Thompson ended up with 24 points and 16 rebounds. She was 11-for-11 from the free throw line. “Mariah on Fi-ah” was the refrain heard around the Weaver dressing room after the game.

“I just can’t believe we did it,” Thompson said. “We worked as a team and we worked hard to get this win. I have a lot of faith in this team and they did their part.”

Pleasant Valley made another late run, but it just was not enough. Weaver rode the balanced scoring of four starters in doubles. Besides Thompson and Beck, Caleigh Cortez had 14 points and nine rebounds, Perry had 10 points and five boards.

Simpson was a warrior for PV, scoring 26 points and pulling down 13 rebounds; she was 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Atleigh Brannon added 14 points.

Interestingly, as animated as Weaver coach Gary Atchley can be on the bench, he was relatively sedate as the game went on. His players even had a calm about them as they denied the Lady Raiders, the last team in the tournament to play its first game.

“That was the calmest I’ve ever seen him,” Beck said. “To be honest, I was a little scared. It’s a little nerve-wracking to see your coach who’s typically screaming and hollering and jumping to be so … calm. It was really strange.”

The loss was bittersweet for some of the Pleasant Valley seniors. Just two years ago their program came to life with a huge double overtime victory over Ohatchee with some late game heroics from the then-sophomore Brannon and since then have been one of the tournament contenders.

“It was an awesome feeling two years ago; we were just trying to be recognized,” Brannon said. “It is really an honor to be a 2-seed. There has been a lot of hard work over the last two years to get to where we are now.”

No doubt the Lady Raiders will be back working hard trying to regroup from the upset and get ready for the playoffs, where maybe they will get a rematch.

Weaver’s Mariah Thompson and Pleasant Valley’s Atleigh Brannon get tangled up in the lane. (Photo by Dave Brandsma)

Weaver 70, Pleasant Valley 55
Caleigh Cortez 4 6-9 14, Tayanna Perry 4 2-4 10, Rayne Beck 6 0-0 12, Emily Reed 1 0-0 3, Amira Carter 0 0-0 0, Hannah Roberts 0 0-0 0, Mariah Thompson 6 11-11 24, Abby Gaines 3 1-4 7. Totals 24 20-28 70.

PLEASANT VALLEY – Kara Perry 3 0-0 6, Lindsey Pritchett 0 0-0 0, McKinley Parris 2 0-0 5, Atleigh Brannon 4 6-9 14, Chandler Dorsett 0 0-0 0, Emma Hood 1 2-4 4, Mikala Simpson 7 10-10 26.

Weaver 20 13 18 19 — 70
Pleasant Val. 8 18 6 23 — 55

3-point goals: Weaver 2 (Reed, Thompson); PV 3 (Parris, Simpson 2).

Mikala Simpson (25) brought Pleasant Valley back into the game after Weaver had jumped on it early. (Photos by Dave Brandsma)

To see more Dave Brandsma photos from the Calhoun County Tournament, visit www.camerainnandbikes.com

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