Top-ranked Woodland faced No. 2 Section in the first game of the first day of the Northeast Regional tournament and it wound up being the grand opening and grand closing for the Lady Bobcats.
They fell 51-49 to the Lady Lions Monday afternoon at Pete Mathews Coliseum after reaching the AHSAA Class 2A state championship game last season.
Woodland overcame a six-point fourth quarter deficit to lead by three with less than a minute to go. However, they turned the ball over twice in the final 43 seconds and wound up losing on a layup in the lane by Lady Lions forward Hannah Pressley with 14 ticks remaining on the clock.
“The truth is at the right times, I think they wanted it worse than we did,” Woodland coach Larry Strain said. “They played like they had a chip on their shoulders. We didn’t play like we had a chip on ours and that’s the way we needed to play.”
Pressley finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes of action to help her team advance to Thursday’s 9 a.m. final where it will face North Sand Mountain. North Sand Mountain defeated Altamont 59-41 in the other semifinals matchup.
Woodland (32-2) trailed 16-13 after one despite eight points from all-state point guard Leah Strain. But took a 30-25 lead into the half after outscoring the Lady Lions 17-9 in the second. But the Lady Bobcats managed just four points in the third amid 5-for-28 shooting in the second half to fall back behind 37-34 heading into the fourth.
After struggling from the outside all game, Woodland sophomore Shanna Strain drained a 3-pointer with 5:01 to play to pull her team to within two at 44-42. She added three more the old-fashioned way, scoring despite being fouled by Section’s Taylor Adams to give her team a 45-44 advantage with 3:12 remaining.
With a 47-46 lead, Woodland had had enough of going at Section, who’s roster boasts a pair of near 6 footers. So, the Lady Bobcats decided to run away from the Lady Lions (21-6), going to a stall offense that chewed off 49 seconds of game time before Section fouled to put Shanna on the free-throw line.
She missed, but a turnover and another Section foul put Leah Strain on the line, who converted a pair from the charity stripe to put the Lady Bobcats up 49-46 with 1:06 remaining.
Section outrebounded Woodland 46-32 and had nine blocks. Their size impacted Woodland whenever 5-foot-4 inch Leah Strain would drive to the basket only to have her attempt altered. Leah led all scorers with 29 points but did so on 10-for-30 shooting. Shanna finished with 12 points and three boards. No other Lady Bobcats scored more than four.
“I’ve played against some big girls this season,” said Leah, who also had 12 rebounds. “I played against Lanett. At the Lauderdale County tournament, there were a lot of big girls, but these girls were both big and athletic. Even if I did ball fake, they were right back there ready to block it.”
It seemed as if Woodland would move on to its second-straight regional final when Section’s Holli Walden missed on a layup on the Lady Lions’ next trip down but Taylor Adams corralled the offensive rebound, raced out to the 3-point line and sank her only attempt from deep to tie the game with 52 seconds to play.
Adams had a monster game with 16 points and 19 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards, while adding five blocks and two assists.
Jordan McCarver added 14 points to help Section’s effort.
Woodland turned the ball over trying to get it to a streaking Leah down the sideline. Section misfired again, but Woodland turned the ball over again trying to advance it up the court following the rebound leading to Pressley’s big shot in the paint.
Leah couldn’t connect on an attempt to tie the game inside five seconds and just like that a team which had won 32 games, including 22 in a row, had its season ended.
“There at the end when we could’ve gotten down big-time, they didn’t quit,” Section coach Danielle Maples said.
“When they went ahead and started holding the ball, that’s one of weakest things having to pick up man-to-man, they could’ve quit but they didn’t. They jumped out on them and played hard.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.