MCHS Lady Bulldogs open region play with a close win
By Tom White
The Morgan County High School Lady Bulldogs opened region play Friday night at home with a 49-45 win against the visiting Lady Rebels from Hephzibah High School.
The Lady Dogs entered the game with a 5 and 4 record after a quiet holiday break and a postponed game at Thompson earlier in the week, while Hephzibah was looking to improve on their 1 and 3 record.
A mix of speed, power and finesse made this game exciting from the first possession until the final buzzer. The Lady Dogs balanced late defense and court awareness to hold off the attacking Lady Rebels throughout the game.
The Lady Dogs defense controlled Hephzibah in the first quarter, forcing five consecutive turnovers. Hephzibah countered their turnovers with strong play from behind the arc, sinking three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. The Lady Dogs struggled with the Rebels’ speed and had Hephzibah shooting bonus free throws with over two minutes left in the quarter. The end of the first had Morgan County trailing 21-17.
Shay Brown tried to get some momentum started for the Lady Dogs in the second quarter by snatching a defensive rebound and driving to the basket for a contested layup. The Lady Dogs tied the game with six minutes left in the half on a pair of Precious Benford free throws.
MCHS Head Coach Tim Roop packed the lane with an effective zone defense to shut down the shooters on Hephzibah. Janiah Blount of Hephzibah scored a contested layup and the ensuing free throw to score the first points of the quarter for Hephzhibah at 3:35. The Lady Rebels got into foul trouble late in the second when guard, Aaryah Tolbert, picked up her third foul with over two minutes left in the half.
MCHS Freshman Destiny Hunter made a statement on the blocks throughout the quarter with several offensive rebounds and great defensive play.
Morgan County went to the locker room with a 33-26 lead.
Miracle Hunter got the scoring started for the Lady Dogs in the second half with a great bounce pass from Taylor Frederick. Aaryah Tolbert kept Hephzibah in the conversation with strong play and leadership on both ends of the court.
Tim Roop’s Lady Dogs were looking to get the post play going in the third by continuing to pound the ball inside against the smaller team. Again, turnovers and missed opportunities hurt Hephzibah as it took over four minutes for them to score their first points of the half.
With three minutes to go in the half, Precious Beneford picked up her third personal foul leading Roop to sit her for a while to let Miracle Hunter and younger sister Destiny control the paint for the Lady Dogs.
Peyten Spain got on the scoreboard in the third with a timely three that put the Lady Dogs up 10. MCHS Sophomore Aliyah Cooper took control of the team and the momentum as Shay Brown worked through a turned ankle. The quarter closed with the Lady Dogs holding on to an 11-point lead at 33-44.
Hephzibah opened the fourth quarter in their zone defense and the Lady Dogs seemed content to let them stay there. On the offensive side, the Lady Rebels started pushing the action and driving to create contact and score.
“You have not won the game yet,” is hurled from the MCHS bench just before a Tim Roop timeout to refocus the team as Hephzibah cut the lead to seven. The game plan out of the timeout became to protect the ball and keep it moving while Hephzibah stayed in their 2-3 zone.
Strategy slows down the game with under 90 seconds to go as both teams burn through timeouts. Hephzibah comes out with a full court pressure defense to try to force MCHS turnovers late in the quarter.
Aaryah Tolbert makes it close with a three pointer with 36 seconds to go to cut the MCHS lead to two. After a MCHS possession and free throw, a quick Aaryah Tolbert three point attempt rattles out and a foul on the rebound by Courtney Morrall puts Peyten Spain at the line in a double bonus situation. Spain hits the first to extend the lead to three for MCHS. The second falls and makes it a two-possession lead for the Lady Dogs with 20 seconds left. The Lady Dogs were able to hold to the ball and the 49-45 victory to open region play.
Morgan County was led in scoring by Shay Brown with 16. Peyten Spain and Precious Benford added nine points each. Hephzibah guard, Aaryah Tolbert, led all scores with 19 points off five threes. She was followed in the scorebook by Courtney Morrall with 15.