Hillcrest edges Selma to win Central Regional final

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MONTGOMERY — Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa outlasted Selma in a back and forth 6A girls championship game Tuesday in the Central Regional title game at Alabama State University’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome.

Tournament MVP Cierra Cunningham knocked down four free throws in the final minute and went 7-for-9 from the charity stripe as Hillcrest held on for a 46-41 win. Selma had played under control for the first two quarters, but turned the ball over 14 times in the second half to fall behind.

“We gave that one away, miscues and turnovers at crucial times, missed free throws, blown assignments at crucial times,” said Selma coach Anthony Harris.

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In the first half, the lead swapped hands nine times, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

Selma ended the second quarter on an 8-0 run, started by a 3-pointer by Aaliyah Hatcher that tied the game at 16-16.

The Saints took a 21-16 lead at the break after layups by Ta’Sharri Grimes and Williams in the final minutes of the half.

Hillcrest upped the pressure in the third quarter, and it immediately paid off. The Patriots fell behind by six after a Jamya Smith 3-pointer but went on an 8-0 run to storm back into the lead.

“I think our pressure finally got to them,” said Hillcrest coach Steven Sims. “In the first half, we didn’t really press them too much. In the second half, I figured if we’re going to go down, we’re going to do down swinging.”

Tawana Nevels’ layup put Hillcrest up 26-24 with 2:30 left in the third quarter and the Patriots didn’t trail again.

Selma tied the game four more times, including on a layup by Grimes early in the fourth quarter, but Cunningham answered with a 3-pointer that put the Patriots up 33-30 with 5:31 to play.  Cunningham ended the game with 20 points and was 6-for-8 from the floor.

Selma pulled within 35-34 on a Williams’ layup with 3:40 to play, but Hillcrest responded by getting the ball to Nevels, who completed a 3-point play to put the Patriots up 38-34.

Dailey threw it to Hatcher for a layup to tie the game at 38-38 in the final minutes. Cunningham answered with a coast-to-coast layup that put the Patriots back up two.

Dailey had four free throws on the next possession — two after getting fouled and two after a Williams rebound — but she could only knock down one.

Selma had one more possession where it trailed by three, but the Saints turned it over and Cunningham put the game away at the free throw line.

Selma’s Kynadra Lewis, Williams and Dailey made the all-tournament team. Williams, who scored 10 points, was the only Selma player in double figures. Grimes scored 7 of her 9 points in the first half.

Selma was just for 2-for-11 from 3-point range, a continuation of the team’s struggles from last week’s win against Benjamin Russell.

Hillcrest will move on to Birmingham, where the Patriots will continue their run for a 6A championship. Selma’s season came to a close.

Selma’s three seniors — Williams, Dailey and Jamya Smith — saw their careers end with the defeat. They made it to Montgomery three out of the last four years and won over 20 games every year.

“The coaches, they’ve been really good coaches throughout my years I’ve been here, and I’m going to miss it,” Williams said.