E.A. Sports Today

‘Dega does it

Talladega girls rally from 12-point halftime deficit, become first team to eliminate Anniston in area in Bullock’s 18-year tenure as head coach

Gracie Williams (center) listens as Handley coach Courtney Screws talks during a timeout during their Class 4A, Area 8 tournament game against Munford on Monday. She scored her first basket of the season in Handley’s 58-15 victory. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Girls Class 4A, Area 8 tournament

Talladega 41, Anniston 34
Handley 58, Munford 15
Handley vs. Talladega, 6 p.m.

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

HANDLEY — Rebecca Williams and Eddie Bullock shared a bittersweet hug after her team eliminated his team’s season in Monday’s Class 4A, Area 8 tournament.

Talladega, a team with a girls’ basketball history on par with Anniston’s, had dropped down from 5A before this season. The Tigers became the first team to eliminate Anniston, a 4A power, in area play in Bullock’s 18 seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

Talladega’s 41-34 victory at Handley was a moment for Williams … a mixed moment.

“I love Coach Bullock,” Williams said. “He’s a great coach. I’m just happy to be able to beat him, not necessarily going to the next level, because I honor him, how good a coach he is.”

The victory sent Talladega to Thursday’s 6 p.m. area title game against top seed Handley, which beat Munford 58-15 later Monday.

Anniston (15-12), three years removed from its first state title and two from a runner-up finish, suffered a rare elimination in area-tourney play.

The Bulldogs went most of the season without their most seasoned big-game player in Serena Hardy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game.

“It would’ve been nice to have a player who can control the ball and manage the situation,” Bullock said. “We mismanaged the situation.”  

Beating Anniston took a comeback for Talladega (20-6).

Led by Layla Tyus’ nine points, Anniston led 20-7 in the second quarter and 24-12 at halftime. Talladega held the Bulldogs to two second-half field goals, none in the fourth quarter, and 10 second-half points.

Williams’ halftime changeup was all about speeding up the pace of the game.

“I had to go back to basics,” Williams said. “I had put a lot of new stuff in, and the girls weren’t comfortable with it.

“I started to pick back up what I’ve seen other teams do to them, and it turned the game around.”

It also took a big second half from Houston Goins. She scored 15 of her 16 points after halftime, hitting three 3-pointers while leading the comeback.

She hit a three to tie the game 30-30 early in the third quarter, but her biggest bucket was a fast-break layup to give Talladega its first lead, 33-31.

The go-ahead bucket came after sister Jaleah Spencer tipped the ball away from Anniston’s Jayda Fomby near midcourt.

“I seen her tip the ball,” Goins said. “When she tipped it, it tipped away, and I just went and grabbed it.”

Talladega’s second-half dominance was enough to get the Tigers past area and into the sub-regional round. A victory Thursday gives the winner a chance to host a sub-regional game.

“We came in and shook this area up,” Goins said. “This is our first year in this area.”

Bullock hopes the loss will motivate his Bulldogs in the offseason.

“We start two 10th-graders and a couple of juniors, one junior that’s not as experienced,’ he said. “It caught up with us in the end.

“They just made a few more plays than we did.”

TALLADEGA – Trinity Webb 0 5-6 5, Kailynn Williams 2 2-2 7, Houston Goins 5 3-5 16, Zae Cunningham 3 0-0 6, Makayla White 1 0-2 2, Destiny Twymon 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 10-15 41.
ANNISTON –  Layla Tyus 3 3-6 9, A’Kayla Perry 1 5-7 7, Jada Fomby 2 0-0 4, Jenayzia Oliver 1 0-0 3, Tykeria Smith 2 4-4 8, Kiara Thomas 1 0-0 3. Totals 10 12-17 34.

Talladega 51514 – 41
Anniston17764 – 34

3-point goals: Talladega 4 (Goins 3, Williams); Anniston 2 (Oliver, Thomas). Total fouls: Talladega 11, Anniston 14. Fouled out: Perry, Cunningham. Officials: Winn, Wood, Railey.

Gracie overcomes

HANDLEY 58, MUNFORD 15: Handley’s handling of Munford in Monday’s Class 4A, Area 8 tournament action came with the night’s loudest crowd reaction in either first-round game.

For Handley freshman Gracie Williams, anxiety turned to joy.

She scored her first bucket of the season near the end of the second quarter, triggering a crowd outburst rivaling that of a buzzer-beating game-winner.

It’s the kind of reaction kids Williams’ age dream of, even if the dream is a nightmare.

“I’m not much of a shooter, because for me, I don’t like attention,” she said. “I have really bad anxiety, so when I have the ball in my hand, it’s like a spotlight. Usually, I just kick it out.”

Handley coach Courtney Screws learned all about how anxiety affects Williams’ decisions with the ball in two regular-season routs of Munford. Screws said she was “begging” Williams to shoot during the second regular-season meeting, at Munford.

“I was calling timeouts, drawing up stuff for her to shoot,” Screws said. “She wouldn’t shoot.”

With 19 seconds left, Williams shot, got fouled and hit both free throws … her only other points this season.

“It was the same (crowd) reaction then,” Screws said.

Another chance came Monday. Handley led 21-0 after the first quarter, and the lead swelled to 24-0 in the second. Williams got in on the action.

Screws, who holds the Alabama high school scoring record from her career at nearby Woodland, told Williams not to think about it. Just shoot when she gets the ball.

“She did exactly like she was told,” Screws said. “She caught the ball, turned and shot like it was planned, and like she’d been taught to do.”

Talking about the reaction brought tears to Screws’ eyes.

“To get to see not her reaction, but everybody else’s reaction, is what gets to me,” Screws said. “It shows how much she’s loved, not only by her teammates, but by everybody else in the stands.”

Williams said the reaction “means a lot.”

“I made me feel really good that everybody cared that much about me just shooting in a game,” she said. “That’s a lot for me.

“Especially my teammates. I don’t show it a lot, but I love them, and them doing that showed that they have respect for me, too.”

Zanautika Smith and Takeiria Tucker led Handley with 12 points apiece, but Williams was the talk of the gymnasium. Her scoring play was all about overcoming anxiety.

“I kind of just blacked out,” she said. “I just shot. I wasn’t thinking about it. …

“For you to get through something like that with anxiety, you have to put yourself out there and not think about it. I know it’s hard, especially with anxiety because you’re always overthinking, but you’ve just got to not think about it.”

MUNFORD – Breanna Hailes 2 1-3 4, Faith Jacobs 0 1-2 0, Fantaza Calhoun 4 0-2 8. Totals 6 2-7 15.
HANDLEY –  Jodazalyn Fuller 1 2-2 4, Akia Brown 3 2-2 8, Takeriauna Mosley 4 0-0 9, Takeiria Tucker 4 4-6 12, Ana Tucker 2 2-2 7, Iyanna Norman 1 0-0 2, Zanautika Smith 6 0-0 12, Amelia Greer 1 0-0 2, Gracie Williams 1 0-0 2. Totals 36 10-12 58.

Munford 71214 – 15
Anniston2115184 – 58

3-point goals: Munford 0, Handley 2 (Mosley, Tucker). Total fouls: Munfod 8, Handley 11. Officials: Winn, Wood, Railey.

Cover photo: Talladega’s Makayla White passes the ball as Anniston’s A’Kayla Perry defends and Talladega teammate Houston Goins tries to post up during their Class 4A, Area 8 tournament game Monday at Handley.

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