The Pisgah girls basketball team had a rough start and a shaky finish.
Fortunately for the Eagles, what they did in between was enough to earn them a chance at winning a fourth straight state championship.
No. 2-ranked Pisgah led by double-digits most of the way and held off No. 7 St. Luke's late fourth-quarter rally attempt to post a 72-63 Class 2A State Semifinal win at the Birmingham Crossplex's Bill Harris Arena on Wednesday.
Pisgah (24-6) advanced to play No. 4 Hatton (25-3) in the Class 2A state finals on Saturday at 9 a.m. Hatton defeated Lanett 45-38 in Wednesday’s other semifinal game.
It's Pisgah's fifth straight state championship game appearance — the previous four were in Class 3A — and the sixth in the past seven seasons.
“It’s always a good feeling getting back to the finals,” said Pisgah junior guard/forward Molly Heard. “And it would be really special to get a four-peat.”
Wednesday's win improved the Eagles to 13-0 in state semifinal games during head coach Carey Ellison's 25-year tenure. Pisgah will be trying for its seventh state title during Ellison's tenure and the school's ninth overall.
Pisgah finished the first quarter on a 17-4 scoring run to take a 23-12 lead and led by as many as 17 in the second quarter before holding a 41-29 halftime advantage. The Eagles led 59-41 entering the fourth quarter. St. Luke’s outscored Pisgah 22-13 in the final quarter but never got closer than nine.
“We played a solid two-and-a-half quarters. We kind of went to sleep, lost our determination, and (St. Luke’s) turned up their pressure and we had communication lapses everywhere,” Ellison said. “We were not in position to help each other, and then we were, we were crowding each other. I thought we lost our focus, and that’s when (St. Luke’s) turned it up. Thankfully we had enough of a cushion to where we were able to survive it.”
Heard finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three blocks and seven steals for the Eagles while Kallie Tinker made four 3-pointers and closed with 21 points and three steals. Kennedy Barron totaled six points and 12 rebounds, Emma Ellison had six points and seven rebounds, Karlee Holcomb had six points and two assists, Bella Bobo had five points and two assists and Lila Kate Wheeler had two points.
Iamunique Bowie scored 22 points for St. Luke’s (23-5) while Whitney Novak netted 14 and Arbany Holder had 10.
Pisgah has now won 15 of its last 16 games after an un-Pisgah like 9-5 start to the season.
“A lot of people have been doubting us, so we just want to prove them wrong,” Tinker said.
The Eagles are back in the state finals despite losing three starters from a year ago.
“The kids believe they’re supposed to be here,” Carey Ellison said. “When it gets crunch time, they’re ready to go. Early on, I didn’t know if we were going to have people step up and help carry us this far. But we had people step up, the effort and enthusiasm went up, and things started clicking.
Saturday’s championship game will be Pisgah’s 17th state finals appearance, which is tied with Lauderdale County for most all-time. It’s the second time Pisgah and Hatton have meet in a state championship game. Hatton defeated the Eagles in the 2004 Class 2A state title finals.
Carey Ellison said the Eagles will need a complete performance in order to win another state title.
“It’ll be another war,” the coach said. “Hatton is really solid. They go about 10 deep. Got a couple of good post players and good shooters. Hopefully we can get rested up and get our minds sharp. We weren’t completely here today. We had to play so well to beat Spring Garden. I think they relaxed a little bit. Can’t have that against (Hatton).”