Senior Katy Miller, the youngest of four daughters to play for JCA over the 23 years their father has coached the team, scored a game-high 36 points to lead the Thunder past 2010 regional finalist Gaston, 66-60, in Thursday’s sub-regional action.
Unranked JCA (27-2) will open Northeast Regional play against No. 4 Spring Garden on Tuesday at Jacksonville State University.
“Being my senior year, it means a lot to me,” said Katy Miller, who last played in the regional as a freshman. “But I know it means a lot to this team, too.
“We’re a really close-knit team, and we’re not ready for the season to end.”
To keep it going, Katy Miller had to try something different — playing from the post.
Tommy Miller moved his primary ball handler and scorer inside in the second half. The tactic helped Katy Miller get 23 free throws (13 in the second half), and she made 20.
She made three of four free throws in the final 1:02 to break a 60-60 tie, and JCA made 28 of 43 free throws on the night.
“It was an offense we put in early in the year, so we knew we could score that way,” said Katy Miller, who added eight rebounds and six assists. “And you could hear daddy the whole time telling me I’ve got to suck it up, no matter what.”
Tommy Miller said he made the move because Katy Miller struggled from the field in the first half. The usual physical play opponents apply to her did the rest in terms of getting her to the foul line.
“Everybody we play plays very physical, and they play very physical on her,” he said. “She gets really beat up. Every game, she gets bruises. She’s had bruises you wouldn’t believe, worse than some of my football players have.
“But if we get the ball to her, she either scores or gets fouled.”
To make the tactic work, sophomore Abby Jaskowski had to become the primary ball handler in the second half.
“A lot was put on Abby’s shoulders, and it’s tough on her,” Tommy Miller said. “She made a few mistakes, but … I thought she handled it pretty well tonight.”
Jaskowski added nine points, including a driving shot to put JCA up 60-58 with 1:32 remaining and a free throw to make it 64-60 at 33.1 seconds.
Kandace Postell scored 10 points, including the clinching layup on a Katy Miller feed in transition with 12 ticks left.
Gaston got 20 points from Morgan Beaird and 10 from Erin Lowery.
The Bulldogs scored the game’s first eight points, withstood a 20-2 JCA run and led 30-29 at halftime.
The Thunder surged out to a 51-43 lead on Postell’s transition basket early in the fourth quarter, but Gaston rallied again. The Bulldogs tied the score twice in the final 1:44, the final time coming on a Destiny Allen free throw to make it 60-60 with 1:15 remaining.
Gaston made eight of 14 free throws on the night.
JCA moves on to make its third regional appearance in girls’ basketball.
“It’s the most amazing feeling,” Jaskowski said. “All the glory be to God.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.