The Central girls basketball team came through on its preseason goal to “get on the bus” to play in Birmingham deep into the state playoffs. The problem was that in the Lady Red Devils’ semifinals matchup with Hoover, the wheels promptly fell off.
Central (26-5) fell behind quickly against the Lady Buccaneers and never righted the ship in a 59-46 loss on Tuesday. Central’s main issue was rebounding, as Hoover repeatedly got second and third shots at the basket in building its commanding lead.
At one point in the first quarter, Hoover (26-6) had outrebounded Central 11-2, setting a pace that Central head coach Carolyn Wright knew would be detrimental to her team’s chances.
“I was continually fussing at my forwards that (they) were just letting them crash the boards, not getting your bodies on anybody and not taking care of the boards,” Wright said. “That’s what we’ve got to do in this game. We’ve got to take care of the ball, get rebounds and give ourselves second chances on shots.”
Teyah Johnson led Central in scoring with 17 points in the loss. She delivered several big baskets in the fourth quarter in the Lady Red Devils’ best attempt to close the gap.
“Going through my head, (I said), ‘We have to win,’” Johnson said. “I was just trying to do whatever it took to score and get the game to like two points down.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Red Devils, the late push for points couldn’t overcome their early missteps. Central cut Hoover’s lead to 11 points, but it was as close as it could come to sniffing victory.
Central’s struggles around the basket were not limited to rebounds. The Lady Buccaneers pushed the Lady Red Devils’ forwards around, willing their way to numerous points around the rim.
It was a problem that doomed any shot for a Central resurgence.
With Hoover’s offense rolling with multiple shot attempts, Wright said her players began to press in the second quarter because they had no choice. Tiyah Johnson attempted several long 3-point attempts that missed their marks, while the rest of the Central offense struggled to get anything going.
Tiyah finished the game with eight points, which is far from her usual production for the team. Wright attributed the abnormal lack of scoring to the Lady Buccaneers’ presence when it came to stopping her.
“I think they had numerous players they could throw at her and push at her and wear her down,” Wright said. “I think she still got out there and play hard. When you’ve got a good player, you’re going to get the pressure on you.”
Despite coming up one game short of the title game, Wright and her players said they were satisfied with the season. This trip to Birmingham was only Central’s third during Wright’s 26-year tenure with the team, and 26 victories in a season was quite the feat within itself.
The ending in Birmingham didn’t quite match their hopes, but it couldn’t take away from the feats that got the Lady Red Devils there in the first place.
“It was a great experience,” Johnson said. “I’m just happy we made it this far.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports