After making only 1 of 12 3-point shot attempts in the opening quarter of its Class 3A state semifinal game, Pisgah head coach Carey Ellison delivered a message prior to the start of the second quarter.
“[He said] get to the rim,” said freshman guard Molly Heard.
The No. 1-ranked Eagles began to implement that plan in the second quarter and executed it fully in the third to pull away and defeat Prattville Christian 63-47 Tuesday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena.
The win sent Pisgah (33-1) back to the state finals for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years. The defending state champion Eagles go for the repeat Friday at 12:30 p.m. against Montgomery Academy (29-2).
“It’s just great to be back [in the finals] one more time, said Pisgah senior guard and Auburn signee Annie Hughes.
Heard closed with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists and four steals for Pisgah while Hughes recorded 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals and Chloe Womack had 11 points and three steals. The Eagles also got four points each from Kaylee Vaught, Bailey Law (two steals) and Madison Myers, three from Layla Hatfield and two each from Abbey Grace Womack and Kennedy Barron.
Ella Jane Connell and Kaitlin Reyes scored 21 and 20 points respectively for Prattville Christian (25-9), which led by as many as seven points in the opening quarter before holding a 16-13 lead at quarter’s end.
Pisgah moved in front 30-24 at halftime before pushing its lead into double figures after buckets from Womack and Heard and free throws from Vaught in the first 1:13 of the third quarter. The Eagles’ lead never dipped into single digits again, and they closed the third quarter with a 10-2 scoring run to lead 52-32 entering the fourth.
“Super excited about getting the win,” said Carey Ellison, who improved to 11-0 in state semifinal games as Pisgah’s head coach. “ I think [Prattville Christian was] really a solid team, schemed very well, had our number there the first half. We didn’t do things quite like we had planned, but the second half, I felt like we really came out in that third quarter and executed some things we’d only worked on briefly and did a really good job of doing those things. Maybe the experience factor helped because all of these girls have been here [in the state tournament] multiple times.”
Reyes said she saw a difference in Pisgah’s play in the second half.
“In the third quarter I think we kind of slacked off a little bit and [Pisgah] definitely picked up their intensity,” Reyes said. “They were a lot more aggressive on their press than we weren’t running [the press break] we had run in practice and we turned the ball over a lot, and that’s when we got down so much and weren’t able to come back.”
Prattville Christian committed 28 turnovers resulting in 27 points. Pisgah scored 15 points off turnovers in the third quarter.
“The pressure always helps us,” Ellison said. “If we can create a turnover that turns into points, a lot of times, that is our offense.”
Returning to the finals has extra meaning to Chloe Womack, who missed the Eagles’ state championship game victory last year while sidelined with a knee injury after playing in Pisgah’s 2017 finals loss to Locust Fork.
“It’s great to be back,” Womack said. “I’m glad my teammates helped me this year to get back to where I needed to be, build my strength back, and getting us back to this game and letting me be able to play in a state championship game again.”