MONTGOMERY — Despite an otherworldly performance from junior Kaitlin Peterson, the Eufaula Lady Tigers found themselves in a tied contest with 6:19 left in the fourth quarter Friday against Opelika during the Class 6A Southeast Regional semifinals.
Although Peterson’s heroics had kept the team in contention all day, the Lady Tigers could not keep up when it mattered most.
Eufaula stalled out with the game on the line, as the Lady Tigers did not score a single point in the final two minutes and 55 seconds of a 61-48 loss to Opelika. The defeat made for a bittersweet ending to a stellar performance by Peterson, who finished the afternoon with 38 points.
As a result, Opelika (26-6) advances to the regional finals, where it will face Dothan on Tuesday.
With the game up for grabs late, the Lady Bulldogs worked tirelessly to make sure the final result swung in their favor.
After Kaitlyn Bryant broke the tie by hitting the first of two free throws, La’Dajah Huguley connected with Haley Sanders under the basket on a spot-on assist to give Opelika a 44-41 lead with 5:23 to go. Huguley immediately came back with a defensive steal and drew a foul that sent her to the line, where she hit the front-end of her two shots to create a four-point Opelika lead.
On the next Opelika possession, Bryant somehow wiggled her way around a Eufaula defender and dropped a layup to give the Lady Bulldogs a six-point advantage as part of a 7-0 scoring run.
Peterson had been a thorn in Opelika’s side all day. Despite the Lady Bulldogs’ string of big plays, she wasn’t giving in just yet.
Once Zahria Hoskey and Haley Sanders traded layups to create a 49-43 contest with 3:21 to go, Peterson drew a foul and hit both free throws to shrink the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to four. Sanders answered with a layup off an assist by Ananda Hughley before Peterson came right back with a 3-pointer to make the score 51-48 with 2:55 to go.
Peterson’s shot could have sent a shockwave through an Opelika bench that had watched the junior make countless plays against them. Instead, the entire team buckled down to finish the job.
As quickly as Peterson had gotten Eufaula (25-7) back in the mix, Opelika slammed the door shut on a potential comeback.
Bryant nailed the first of two free throws to put her side up 52-48 with 2:47 on the clock, and nearly 20 seconds later she hit another free throw to create a five-point difference. Opelika locked down on Peterson and left her teammates scrambling as they failed to hit any shots, and after a defensive rebound Claire Worth stepped up and drilled a 3-pointer to put Opelika up 56-48 with 1:50 left in the fourth.
From Worth’s long shot on, all that was left was desperate fouling from Eufaula. Opelika tacked on five more free throws courtesy Bryant, Huguley and Hughley before the final horn sounded.
Sanders led the way for Opelika with 19 points along with eight rebounds and three steals. Bryant had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Worth ended up with eight points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Peterson was the game’s leading scorer and had seven of her 38 points in the final quarter. It became apparent quickly that Opelika had to limit Peterson, and the fact the rest of the Eufaula team shot 4-of-51 from the floor spoke to how crucial she was for her team’s hopes.
Eufaula boys 77, Calera 66: Eiszeric Thomas scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds to pace the Tigers to a Class 5A Southeast Regional Tournament win Friday at Garrett Coliseum.
The Tigers (26-5) advanced to the regional finals Tuesday at 2:15 against Sidney Lanier (14-13), which defeated Pelham 60-46 in the other semifinal.
Thomas hit 9-of-13 shots and 11-of-18 free throws to earn his 29 points for Eufaula.
Jadarious Blackshire followed with 18 points. Rodarius Thomas, Blackshire and Devin Fuller all had six rebounds. Caleb Paige and Jordan Brown had four steals for the Tigers.
Chad Chambers led Calera (19-8) with 21 points. Jamarius Ford had 17 and Zachary Holmes 11 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
In Friday’s game, Eufaula seized the lead two minutes into the game and never relinquished the advantage, though the Eagles made runs in the second half to stay in contention.
Eufaula built a 25-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. It led by double digits throughout the second quarter and by as many as 15 three times before taking a 41-26 halftime advantage.
It appeared the Tigers were set to pull away in the third quarter, bumping the margin to 19 at 45-26 on a Thomas dunk, but the Eagles scrapped to within 10 late in the quarter before EHS finished the period up 54-42.
Calera cut the margin to six at 61-55 with 3:38 left and had possession of the ball after a Eufaula missed shot, but Thomas earned a steal in the backcourt and converted a layup to put the Tigers up eight.
The Eagles cut the deficit to seven two times, but Eufaula hit enough free throws late to prevail.
The teams combined for 49 turnovers — Eufaula with 26 and Calera with 23. Eufaula hit 50 percent from the floor (23-of-46), including 6-of-16 on 3-pointers, and was 25-of-39 at the foul line (64.1 percent).