Pisgah girls basketball head coach Carey Ellison normally would not be content with a halftime deficit.
But he wasn’t bothered by the No. 2-ranked Eagles’ trailing No. 5 Pike Road by two points after two quarters.
“I was comfortable with how the game was going,” Ellison said. “Once we made a (scoring) run, I felt like we would be able to hang on to it.”
The coach didn’t have to wait long for that run.
Two-time defending state champion Pisgah outscored Pike Road 29-14 in the third quarter, including a 15-3 spurt to end the frame, on the way to a 72-58 win in the Class 3A state semifinals Tuesday morning at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena.
Pisgah (30-3) plays for a three-peat when it takes on No. 1 T.R Miller (28-1) in the Class 3A state championship game on Friday at 12:30 p.m.
T.R. Miller defeated No. 7 Lauderdale County 50-44 in Tuesday’s other state semifinal.
It’s the fourth straight state championship game appearance and fifth in six years for the Eagles, who are now 12-0 in state semifinal games during Ellison’s 24-year coaching tenure.
“It’s really exciting,” Ellison said. “It means a lot, especially since we had lots of doubters. We lost eight seniors, (so) no possible way we could be back in this situation. But they stayed determined.”
Pisgah trailed 13-11 after one quarter and 26-24 at halftime as it struggled to make perimeter shots and score in the low post because of Pike Road’s height advantage.
But the third quarter was a different story. Chloe Womack swished a 3-pointer on Pisgah’s first possession, and freshman Kallie Tinker hit two 3-pointers to trigger a scoring run that pushed the Eagles’ lead into double figures.
“Once (Tinker) got her rhythm,” Womack said, “we all scored.”
From there, Pisgah spread the floor and neutralized Pike’s County size advantage with its own quickness advantage.
“There was no way for us to really prepare for (Pike Road’s) size. We just decided we had to try to win this thing on fundamentals and effort,” Ellison said. “We finally got some open shots to fall, and once we got a lead, we got them spread out. If we got them out of the paint, I didn’t think they could guard us (in the open court).”
From then on, Pisgah kept attacking the basket for either layups or drawing fouls. The Eagles finished 28 of 34 at the free-throw line.
“If we could get them in foul trouble, get their big post players on the bench, it was going to help us,” Womack said. “So we just kept going at them.”
Pisgah led 53-40 after three quarters and Pike Road never got closer than nine in the fourth.
Womack, a Gadsden State commit, closed with 26 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field and 15-of-16 shooting from the free-throw line while also grabbing eight rebounds. Tinker totaled 18 points, two assists and two steals and Molly Head had 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots while Layla Hatfield had eight points and two assists, Madison Myers had seven points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals and Kennedy Barron had three points and one blocked shot.
Pike Road (28-5), a two-year old school that will jump to Class 5A next season, had five players score in double figures. Aaliyah Manora led the Patriots with 13 points while Sakoya Knight and 6-foot-4 post player Tamirea Thomas had 12 each. Skye Harris-Butler and Johnseria Clement netted 11 and 10 points respectively.
Despite being at a height disadvantage, Pisgah was only out-rebounded by two, 40-38, by the taller Patriots and actually had more second chance points (17) than Pike Road (16).
“We did get outrebounded, just by two,” Ellison said. “That says a lot about how hard we did battle.”