MONTGOMERY — The inaugural season of Dothan Wolves girls basketball is now one step away from the state tournament.
Sparked by a sizzling third quarter, Dothan opened up a double-digit advantage and held off a late Chelsea rally to earn a 57-47 win in a Class 6A Southeast Regional Tournament at Garrett Coliseum Friday morning.
The win pushes Dothan (23-3) into Tuesday’s regional finals at 12:30 p.m. against Opelika. The winner of that Tuesday game advances to the state semifinals in Birmingham on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 9 a.m.
The Wolves are in the first year after Dothan and Northview consolidated this summer.
“We have been working really hard coming to the point,” junior guard Alexis Hudgens said. “We mixed the schools and we came together. We are trying to go all the way to Birmingham.”
Dothan head coach Dishon Benjamin was elated as his team’s win.
“I am very happy,” Benjamin said. “It was a great game. Chelsea is a worthy opponent. They came out and put that 1-2-2 (match-up zone) on us and it ruffled us a little bit. They are well coached. They do a good job doing what they do.
“My girls just decided to bounce back and fight through and advance. We are trying to get to Birmingham. We didn’t come here for one game.”
All five Dothan starters played the whole 32 minutes and all contributed big plays. Hudgens had 17 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead the Wolves.
“Hudgens is a special player,” Chelsea head coach Jason Harlow said. “I don’t know how many points she had, but she controls the tempo so well from that one spot and she is so tough to turn over. It seemed like she made a lot of good decisions against our press.”
Brianna Reese had 16 points for Dothan, hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers, including a vital one late in the game that helped the Wolves steam a Hornet rally.
“Crucial threes,” Benjamin said of Reese’s outside shooting. “The best threes are the ones that go in, but when they go in at the right time. They were running at us and they had some rattled and she hit one. We needed that.”
Amiyah Rollins had 12 points, including eight in the pivotal third quarter when Dothan pulled away. KeKe Wilson had eight points and Naudia Bishop led the Wolves with 10 rebounds, nine on the defensive end, and had four points.
Jordan Parker, a 5-foot-11 senior forward, led Chelsea with 15 points. Pressley Rains and Sydney Schwallie both had nine points. Rains, who hit 7-of-11 free throws, also had a team-high 11 rebounds plus four assists, while Schwallie had five steals and three assists.
A slow-paced first half where both teams worked the ball around looking for a good shot finished with Dothan up 19-13.
The Wolves, though, quickly erupted to start the third quarter with a 16-6 run to build a 35-21 advantage with 3:20 left. After the Hornets cut it to nine, Dothan finished the period strong, scoring the last seven points to seize a 43-28 lead going to the final period.
“The slower tempo earlier in the game was not to our advantage,” Benjamin said. “The faster we move the ball around, the better we play. We talked about that at halftime and that is what we did in the third quarter.
“We had to speed it up and get some wide open shots. We made some adjustments to get some people in the lane and when they committed we kicked it out and hit open shots.”
Dothan hit 10-of-14 shots during the third quarter, including three 3-pointers. The Wolves also got center Rollins involved inside as she tallied eight points in the period after scoring just two in the first half.
“They have so many good shooters on that team,” Harlow said. “A lot of teams you play, you can key on one or two kids, but their three guards are phenomenal.
“We knew they would hit outside shots and score points in bunches. Our goal was to limit the run. We wanted to keep it a 5-0, 6-0 run and not let it extend to a 10, 12-0 run. They shot it really well in the third quarter and it took out of what we wanted to do in the fourth quarter because we were down double digits.
“We just ran into a buzzsaw in the third quarter.”
Midway in the fourth quarter, Chelsea made a charge. Reminding his team of a 12-point second-half comeback in the area finals against Pelham, Harlow went to a full-court press and it paid dividends with three consecutive steals. The Hornets capitalized, cutting a 14-point deficit to eight (48-40 with 3:16 left) with Sophia Brown scoring four points during a 6-0 run.
Schwallie knocked down two free throws with 2:08 left, cutting the Dothan lead to six.
The Wolves offense had gone conservative, trying to milk the clock out.
Reese, who hit a 3-pointer early in the period, knocked down his fifth and final 3-pointer, a shot from the left corner with 1:53 left that boosted the Dothan lead to 51-42.
“It kind of scared me because coach Ben said, ‘Don’t shoot no more threes,’” Reese said. “He only wanted us to hit only wide-open layups.
“My team believes me and he does too, so when I saw it was open and my other teammates said, ‘Shoot.’ I took it. It only takes me one second to get open and I feel I am going to make a three.”
Hudgens, standing next to Reese, added, “Coaches were telling us not to shoot the ball, but shooters shoot, so if you are feeling it, you have to pull it.”
After Parker missed on Chelsea’s end, Wilson hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:29 left to push the Dothan lead to 10.
The Wolves missed on two opportunities to extend the margin, but missed a free throw on one possession and a lane violation at the foul line on another.
Chelsea’s Rains made 1-of-2 free throws with 52.8 seconds left, but Reese matched it nine seconds later.
The Hornets missed on a 3-pointer, but Dothan missed two free throws. A Hudgens steal lead to two Wilson free throws with 20 seconds left, putting the Wolves up 55-44.
Schwallie hit a 3-pointer with 6.7 seconds left for Chelsea and Dothan’s Bishop scored on a layup at the buzzer to cap the scoring.
After making only 6-of-20 shots in the first half, Dothan hit 14-of-21 in the second half (66.7) to finish 20-of-41 overall. The Wolves were 8-of-16 on 3-pointers, but made just 9-of-17 at the foul line and committed 19 turnovers to 12 assists.
Chelsea hit 15-of-44 (34.1 percent) and had a particularly tough night on threes, making just 2-of-18. The Hornets were 15-of-24 at the foul line and had 21 turnovers to eight assists.
Chelsea won the battle of the boards, 32-27, highlighted by 15 offensive rebounds. The Hornets scored 16 second-chance points.