OPELIKA, Ala. -- Coaches always talk about how it's hard to beat a team three times in a season, but the Opelika Lady Bulldogs used a barrage of 3-pointers and a big third-quarter run Saturday night to make it look easy, steamrolling Central 57-39 in the Area 5, Class 6A Tournament championship game.
Opelika (21-7) hit seven 3-pointers in the game and made a 17-0 run to start the third quarter to turn what had been a close, competitive game into a contest where the outcome was not in doubt. Despite the loss, Central (18-9) will continue on to sub-regional play, traveling to the winner of Monday's game between Jeff Davis and Carver-Montgomery. The sub-region game will be Thursday with a tipoff time to be announced.
"I hope this loss won't carry over," said Central coach Carolyn Wright, who picked up career win No. 400 in Thursday's area semifinal win over Auburn. "We just have to suck it up, go back to work and get ready for the next round. We've traveled before and come out of it with a win and we're going to try and do that again next week."
Neither team was able to get much going offensively in the first quarter, as Central struggled shooting from the perimeter and Opelika couldn't get the ball inside to its post players. Still, the Lady Bulldogs were able to carve out a 10-6 lead after the opening eight minutes behind five points -- including a banked-in 3-pointer -- from Jaylen Snipes.
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In the second period, Central was able to use dribble penetration and pressure defense to create better scoring opportunities and stayed close, but Opelika used a late 3-pointer by Destiny Savage to take a 23-19 lead into the locker room at halftime. Savage and Snipes had seven points apiece for Opelika, while Erin Hicks and Jimecheia Banks scored six apiece to lead Central.
"We were trying to contain their inside game, but they made their shots from outside and we didn't shoot the ball well tonight," said Wright. "Once they started hitting shots from the outside, we tried to roll our defenders out there on them, but they got the ball inside and were able to score."
Opelika took control of the game early in the third quarter, scoring the first nine points of the second half to open up a 32-19 advantage with six minutes still to go in the third quarter. The Bulldogs' run -- which went back to Savage's 3-pointer at the end of the first half -- grew to 20-0 before Central finally got a layup from Raynisha Swarn to make it 40-21 with 2:36 to go in the third period.
Having outscored Central 18-4 in the third quarter and armed with a 41-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Opelika cruised to the victory, never letting the Red Devils get closer than 14 points in the final eight minutes.
"That run (to start the third quarter) was what turned the game," said Wright. "Opelika got some momentum going and it didn't matter what defense we threw at them, whether it was a press or a trap or a 23 (zone). They did what they had to do tonight and we didn't."
Snipes, just a freshman, made four 3-pointers and led all scorers with 20 points. Savage added three treys of her own and had 17 and Emerald Chatman pitched in eight points and 18 rebounds. All three were named to the All-Tournament Team. Banks paced Central with 14 points and she, along with Ju'el Beasley, was named to the All-Tournament Team as well.
Saturday at Opelika
Central 6 13 4 16--39
Opelika 10 13 18 16--57
Cox 2, Glance 3, Hicks 8, Jimecheia Banks 14, Beasley 6, Spencer 4, Swarn 2. Totals 16 4-12 39.
Adams 5, Cannon 2, Williams 5, Destiny Savage 17, Chatman 8, Jaylen Snipes 20. Totals 18 14-27 57.
Records: Central 18-9, Opelika 21-7; Next: Central at Jeff Davis/Carver-Montgomery winner (Sub-Regional Round) Thursday Time TBD.