Elba's Nina Williams, shown in this photo against Kinston last month, led the Tigers with 22 points in their sub-regional win over Pleasant Home earlier this week.

Elba’s girls basketball team opens its run at the Class 1A Southeast Regional in Montgomery’s Garrett Coliseum at 3 p.m. today against Loachapoka.

“We’ve got four games left this year, that’s the max we can play,” Elba coach Shaun Hammonds said. “We want to play in all of them. We don’t want to come home Thursday night.”

The Tigers carry a ton of momentum into the regional. Elba (21-7) is 13-2 since Dec. 27 and seems to be peaking at the ideal time, Hammonds said. Elba defeated Pleasant Home 51-27 to advance to the regionals.

But there are no easy teams left. Loachapoka (25-8) has a fine tradition, including a region semifinal loss to Brantley last season and a loss in the state semifinals to powerful Spring Garden two years ago. The Indians have not lost to a 1A team all season.

“Coach (Anthony) Edwards has been there since the late 1990s,” Hammonds said. “They’re always well-coached. If you want to play fast, he’ll let them go and run with you. If he wants to control it, he can do that, too. He’ll adjust to whatever you do.”

Elba, ironically can do the same thing. The Tigers are big enough to grab rebounds inside and fast enough to get the ball up and down the floor.

“We’ll mix it up. This might be a chess match,” Hammonds said. “We’re not to change what we do. We’ll do what got us here.”

Asked what he felt it was that opened the door for the Tigers, the coach said, “The growth of our mental toughness.”

“Our motto this year has been ‘From the neck up,’” Hammond said. “We’ve got the physical attributes, we play the game well, but it’s been the mental side. Those teams that do the small things, they’re the ones that are successful. We’re looking at the little things and trying to be mentally tough and then trying to play through some things when they aren’t going our way.”

Hammonds noted stretches when he didn’t call timeouts in recent games, preferring his team to “figure it out” and play through some adversity.

“I want them to learn how to play through it unless it’s absolutely necessary,” the coach said. “We’ve given the girls the opportunity to learn to play it and adjust mentally to the situation.”

He said he’s seen that pay dividends.

“Our girls are seeing things now that a year ago, even earlier in the season, we couldn’t,” he said. “We can see it unfold and adjust a lot better.”

Elba prides itself on its defense. The Tigers will try to harass an eighth grader who is Loachapoka’s point guard. The Indians’ best player may be senior Tytiana Clemons.

“Defense is going to be what’s going to win this game,” Hammonds said. “We’ve got a good scouting report. The girls are doing a good job of learning their opponents. That’s part of the mental side. You’ve got to know their tendencies, which is their dominant hand, where they like to shoot from.

“But defense wins. If we can keep our head on, we should be in the game.”

The winner of today’s game plays the Georgiana-Westminster winner on Monday at 3 p.m. for a spot in the state tournament.

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