The Golden Eagles did it to the tune of 25 turnovers and fought off a Piedmont surge in the fourth quarter to advance, 52-45.
Jacksonville (20-2), the No. 2 seed, will play top-seeded and fourth-ranked Anniston (16-1) for the title today at 6 p.m. in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Anniston and Jacksonville have split two games this season, each winning on its home court, and the key is simple.
“Defense and running, pressure the ball,” said Jacksonville guard Lacey Buchanon, who scored a team-high 14 points Friday. “It’s the same thing we always do. Defense wins championships.”
It sure won a semifinal.
Jacksonville forced 11 turnovers en route to a 19-8 lead by the five-minute mark of the second quarter, and the Golden Eagles led 28-18 at halftime.
The lead reached as high as 41-24 by early in the fourth quarter, but Jacksonville wouldn’t get through this game without anxious moments.
Piedmont (15-8) tried to rally on the strength of Paige Webb’s 3-point shooting. She scored a game-high 20 points and sparked mini-runs that bought the Bulldogs within striking distance in the third and fourth quarters.
She hit a three to cut the Jacksonville lead to 28-21 early in the third, and BreAnna Thompson’s old-fashioned 3-point play shortly thereafter made it 30-24 Jacksonville at 5:29.
Webb recorded a 4-point play with a 3-pointer and free throw to bring Piedmont within 45-35, and the Bulldogs pulled within six points twice — the last time coming on a Sarah Garner drive to make it 47-41.
“Paige had a career night against a good team,” Piedmont coach Matt Deerman said. “When she scores more than 10 points, we usually win.”
It didn’t happen Friday because of turnovers.
“They played great defense, and we hadn’t seen pressure in about six games,” Deerman said. “It’s hard when you don’t see it for a long time and someone plays that good of defense.
“Our number one key was we had to handle the ball, and we just didn’t take care of the ball.”
Piedmont got all of its points from three players, with Garner adding 15 points and Thompson scoring 10. Garner had 12 rebounds.
Jacksonville got balanced scoring, thanks in large part to Buchanon’s nine assists. Virginia Poe, Kenyatta Ervin and Sharon Osterbind each scored nine points. Poe hit three 3-pointers in the first half.
Now, the Golden Eagles brace for their showdown with Anniston.
“They’re athletic, and they’re big,” Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless said. “It was this way last year, us two in the finals, so I look forward to it. I think it will be a lot of fun for the girls.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.