AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Beach girls basketball team was having all kinds of trouble against a stifling Kendrick defense Friday when Bulldog coach Olufemi Gordon decided to fight fire with fire.
Gordon called for a full-court press -- which Kendrick had been running all afternoon, -- midway through the third quarter, and the emphasis on defense sparked Beach to a come-from-behind 58-51 win over the Lady Cherokees at Augusta University.
Beach (27-4) advanced to its third straight final four and will face the winner of Jackson/West Hall at the same venue at 6:30 p.m. today.
"They were beating us with the press, so we had to hit them back with it," said Gordon, in her third year leading the Bulldogs. "We needed to focus on defense and get our stops, and once we did that it turned up our offense."
Kendrick was led by Raven Baker and Destiny Murph, who scored 14 points each. Kiara Price added 11 points and Brittany Thompson scored 6. Thompson was the ringleader with her non-stop defensive pressure, forcing turnover after turnover in the first half.
It was a tough way to end the season for the Lady Cherokees, who finished with a 27-3 record.
"I think they just wanted this one more than us," Kendrick coach Sterling Hicks said. "They were more aggressive than we were in the second half. They kept fighting, and they had seniors who were playing like they didn't want this to be their last game; they played like you are supposed to do."
Beach trailed 29-21 at intermission and closed the gap to 39-37 after three quarters. The Bulldogs outscored Kendrick 19-14 in the fourth to win the game.
Beach had 18 turnovers in the first half and got that number down to nine in the second half.
Senior Dy'Manee Royal came up big time for the Bulldogs, scoring 11 of her 13 points in the second half and pulling down 19 rebounds with five blocked shots.
"We didn't come out with intensity in the first half and we had too may turnovers," Royal said. "I was thinking this could be it, if we didn't pick it up. But we played our game in the second half. This is exactly where we wanted to be -- back where we were last year."
The Bulldogs reached the Class AAA finals last season where they lost to Laney.
Judasia Hills was another difference-maker for the Bulldogs as the junior poured in a career high 21 points while grabbing 11 rebounds. Ja'breika Bass had 10 rebounds, eight points and four assists for Beach, and Tatiannya Morris added eight points for the Bulldogs. Karriana Morris had just one point, but she provided a spark with her hard-nosed defense in the second half for Beach.
"That was the most I have ever scored, but it was our defense that won the game," Hills said. "We were turning it over early, but coach told us to keep our heads up."
We needed that support from her; it kept us in the game."
Dy'Manee Royal 13, T. Morris 8, Davis 2, Judasia Hills 21, Ja'breika Bass 8, Johnson 5, K. Morris 1.
Raven Baker 14, Kiara Price 11, Destiny Murph 14, Thompson 6, Burston 3, Minor 2, Babatua 1.