The Skyline girls basketball team finally had its breakthrough to state moment.
After coming up short in regional championship games three times in the previous five seasons, the No. 3-ranked Vikings broke through and won the Northeast Regional title over No. 2 Spring Garden, which had defeated Skyline in the regional finals the two previous years.
It was an exciting moment for the program, but Skyline head girls basketball coach Ronnie McCarver couldn’t help but wonder if the players were ready to set the accomplishment aside and refocus on the state tournament.
He got the answer — the answer he wanted — early in the first practice following the regional title game victory.
“They’re dialed in,” he said. “They’re relaxed, ready. Even before the regional final, you could see a different look to them. They’re not just glad to be there [at state]. We could say we’re happy be there and that’s it, but they’re not. They’re focused. That could change when we get on the big court down there [in Birmingham], but I’d be surprised if it does. They want to finish this year out.”
No. 3 Skyline (28-5) plays St. Luke’s Episcopal (24-9) in the Class 1A state semifinals Monday at noon at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena. The Skyline-St. Luke’s winner plays either No. 4 Phillips (24-10) or Westminster-Oak Mountain (21-8) in the state title game on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Skyline is trekking to Birmingham for the first time in 17 years. Prior to Tuesday’s region final win, Skyline had lost three times in that game since 2014 with the state tournament appearance in reach. The win over Spring Garden, assistant coach T.J. Perry said, wasn’t just enjoyed by the current players.
“We had a lot of former players here,” Perry said after Tuesday’s Regional finals win at Jacksonville State. “It’s a great day for our girls basketball program.”
While Skyline was exercising its Spring Garden demons, St. Luke’s was busy dispatching Linden 57-42 in the Southwest Regional championship game in Montgomery.
Elizabeth Roebuck led St. Luke’s with 21 points, six rebounds and three steals while Whitney Novak had 12 points, six rebounds and five steals and Haley Patterson collected 11 rebounds.
McCarver said the Vikings must protect the basketball against St. Luke’s diamond three-quarter-court press, which helped the Wildcats record 16 steals in their win over Linden.
Skyline also faces a height disadvantage, nothing new for the Vikings, McCarver noted. Rebounding will play a huge factor in the outcome, he said.
“They’re big, lanky, long, so we’ve got to do a good job on the boards against them. We’ve got to hold them to one shot, keep them off the glass. We’ve been doing a good job with that so I hope we can keep it up, because that’ll be the key.”