Pisgah girls basketball coach Carey Ellison said his team entered the 2019-20 season with something to prove.
Having lost eight seniors, including three starters, one of which was Miss Basketball and current Auburn Tiger Annie Hughes, this season’s Eagles wanted to prove themselves worthy of the program’s tradition.
Now as these Eagles prepare to play for a Class 3A state championship on Friday — Pisgah has won the last two state titles — Ellison said they have indeed “proven themselves.”
“There was some doubt out there based on what we lost,” he added, “but I feel like these girls have done what it takes and proven themselves. They’ve earned it. They earned it a long time ago. They’ve already seen the fruits of their labor, but I really just hope they get to see everything pay off at the end.”
No. 2-ranked Pisgah (30-3) plays No. 1 T.R. Miller (28-1) in the Class 3A state championship game at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena on Friday at 12:30 p.m.
Pisgah is trying for its eighth state championship all-time and its third consecutive, which would make it just the 10th school to win at least three straight AHSAA girls basketball state championships.
T.R. Miller has a strong basketball tradition as well. Led by longtime coach Ronald Jackson, the Tigers have won four state championships, mostly in Class 4A. They are playing in the state tournament for the second time in three seasons and are making their first finals appearance since 2009.
It's the first ever meeting between the programs.
While Pisgah dispatched No. 5 Pike Road 72-58 in the state semifinal round Tuesday, T.R. Miller defeated No. 7 Lauderdale County 50-44.
The Tigers were led by the duo of Alijah Fountain and Aleria Smith, who scored all but eight of the T.R. Miller’s points in the victory. Fountain scored 22 points and Smith netted 20.
“They’re both athletic and good shooters and very quick,” Ellison said.
The Tigers, who played only six players in Tuesday’s game, had five players play all 32 minutes while another played 27 minutes. T.R. Miller offsets that with a slow-tempo style.
“They’re very disciplined in what they do,” Ellison said. “They’re very patient. They wait for good shots. Probably the most difficult part of that is not getting impatient, making a mistake (defensively) and giving them an easy shot.”
Ellison said the Eagles need to start strong to prevent T.R. Miller for getting the game played to its style.
“If they get a six or eight-point lead,” he said, “they pull it out and make teams chase the ball.”