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Lady Bulldogs heat up in critical area win over Tharptown

BELGREEN - Belgreen coach Chad Green knows his team is going to see a lot of zone defense in games against Class 1A, Area 13 competition. He also knows that playing offense against a zone is tough if you’re struggling to make perimeter shots.

And, heading into Thursday night’s home game against area rival Tharptown, Green’s team was struggling to make perimeter shots.

Those struggles may be over.

The Lady Bulldogs knocked down five threes in Thursday’s first half, matching their highest-single game total in three weeks, and then went 9-for-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to salt away a 56-35 win that evened their record at 2-2 in area play.

“First and foremost, I wanna thank God for giving me these girls to coach and for protecting us and taking care of us all year,” said Green, whose team has won four of its last five to improve to 9-8 overall. “We wanna make sure to glorify Him, because that’s what it’s really about.”

Belgreen hadn’t made more than five threes in a game since canning eight in a loss to Hackleburg on December 13, but junior guard Jasmine Martin got the Lady Bulldogs off to a good start on Thursday by stroking a corner three on a kick-out from freshman post player Katie Dempsey less than a minute into the game.

Senior guard Shellie Barber buried another three later in the first quarter, and then Dempsey assisted on a pair of triples by sophomore guard Gabbie Moore in the second quarter, the second of which capped off a 9-0 run and pushed Belgreen’s lead to 24-12 with 3:30 left in the first half.

Green couldn’t help but smile after the game when talking about the good looks his guards got off that inside-out action.

“We love to see that ball go in the post and then come back out,” he said. “When you get the ball in the post first and then kick it back out, that’s when you get those open shots and you have plenty of time to get your feet set and shoot it in rhythm.”

The Lady Bulldogs were leading by just three at 15-12 early in the second quarter when Dempsey caught a pass near the right elbow and kicked it back out to Moore, who nailed a three from the top of the key to make it a six-point game at the 5:00 mark. Reserve guard Emma Willingham drilled a left-wing three moments later to make it 21-12, and then Dempsey found Moore for her second trey to push the lead to a dozen.

While Belgreen was heating up, the Lady Wildcats (4-10, 0-5) were struggling to find the mark. After freshman post player Brooke Daily opened the second quarter with a three-point play to cut Belgreen’s lead to 13-11, Tharptown went nearly six minutes without a field goal before senior guard Jessica Wilson scored on a driving layup with 1:40 left in the first half.

The Lady Wildcats pulled to within eight on an 18-footer by Klaudia Harris, but Moore assisted on a bucket by reserve post player Camie Terrell at the 1:00 mark that sent Belgreen into the locker room with a 27-17 lead.

Tharptown shot just 6-for-21 in the first half and failed to connect from beyond the arc, compared to 9-for-20 (including those five three-pointers) by the Lady Bulldogs.

“We did a better job tonight with our help-side defense and not getting beat off the dribble,” Belgreen assistant coach Austin Oldag said. “We still have to work on not fouling as much and not putting them on the line.”

Daily opened the third quarter with a basket for Tharptown, but moments later she headed to the bench after picking up her third personal foul. Matters worsened for the Lady Wildcats when Wilson, the team’s leading scorer this season at 11.3 points per game, came up hobbling after a collision on an offensive foul. Wilson, a 1,000-point scorer for her career, went to the bench with 5:08 left in the third quarter and did not return, finishing with two points.

With their top two scorers reduced to the role of spectator, the Lady Wildcats endured a scoreless stretch of nearly four minutes as Belgreen ran off nine straight points to open up a 36-19 lead. Freshman guard Aly Vandiver ended the drought with a runner in the lane at the 3:40 mark, but Moore answered with a high-arcing rainbow from the right wing that pushed the lead to 39-21.

"It was good to see our guards make some shots tonight," Green said. "We've been working really hard, especially since the New Year, spending that extra time in the gym to try and get things going. Hopefully it's starting to pay off."

Emma Dempsey, who went 3-for-3 from the field in the third quarter, scored on a putback at the 1:35 mark, and then Willingham added a bucket to give Belgreen a 43-23 lead heading to the fourth.

The Lady Bulldogs used their pressure defense to force 18 Tharptown turnovers on the night, even causing a couple of five-second violations when the Lady Wildcats were unable to inbound the ball.

“We’ve been trying to play more people lately,” Green said, “and that helps our girls stay fresh and really get after it when they’re on the floor. Like I’ve told them, if they can only give me two minutes, that’s fine. Go as hard as you can go for two minutes, and then I’ve got somebody else I can put in for you.

“Our girls did a good job tonight of using their tip-hand and denying the ball.”

Linda Bahena hit a three for the Lady Wildcats to open the fourth quarter, but Belgreen sealed the deal at the foul line. Senior guard Brianna Wood made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch, and Moore and Martin each went 2-for-2.

Daily finished with 12 points to lead Tharptown, adding nine rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

“I’ll tell you, Daily is a great post player,” Green said. “She’s strong, she’s athletic and she plays hard. She beats and bangs down there, and she gets after it. She runs the floor well, too.”

Bahena added eight points for Tharptown, and Vandiver scored six. The Lady Wildcats finished the night shooting 30 percent (12-for-40) from the floor and 10-for-20 from the foul line.

Belgreen shot 45 percent (18-for-40) from the field, 14-for-21 from the line and only turned the ball over six times. The Lady Bulldogs were led by Moore, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists. Martin added eight points, and Wood scored seven. Katie Dempsey had six points, six boards and three assists, and Emma Dempsey chipped in with six points, three rebounds and three blocks.

Barber and Willingham finished with five points apiece, Terrell had four and Kaycee Wilson scored two.

Belgreen is now 2-2 in area play with one game each remaining against Tharptown, Vina, Hackleburg and Phillips—all on the road.

“This was a big win for us tonight,” Green said. “We had to have it. Our goal is to finish first in the area and get to host that area tournament here, and we’re still capable of doing that. We just have to keep working.”

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