By: Scott Nickerson
Coming in to the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 3A second round game hosted at Alabama State University between the T.R. Miller Lady Tigers and the Prattville Christian Academy Lady Panthers, both teams had an incredible combined record of 48-3. The game was a rematch between two teams that faced each other on the same court at Alabama State University in 2019, with the winner earning the right to advance to the Class 3A Final Four. The Lady Panthers came out victorious. They knew T.R. Miller would be seeking revenge this year.
PCA, led by a pair of outstanding sophomores in guard Ella Jane Connell and center Jace Haynes, entered the contest 30-2. In their most recent outing, the Lady Panthers pummeled Greene County in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs by a score of 60-14.
Their opponents, the T.R. Miller Tigers, entered the game with a record of 18-1, their only loss coming to the Class 6A Carver Wolverines earlier in the season. Of their 19 games played, only two games were decided by less than 20 points. Those two games were the only two in which the teams had managed to score more than 30 points against the Lady Tigers.
The Lady Panthers quickly experienced how quick and stifling the T.R. Miller defense was, managing only 4 points in the opening quarter. The Lady Tigers quickly transitioned to a full court pressure defense on made baskets, and only the sure ball handling of Connell in the opening period kept the game from getting out of hand early on, as PCA found themselves trailing 11-4.
PCA withstood the Lady Tigers’ initial onslaught, and were able to gather themselves in the 2nd quarter and respond with a run of their own, cutting the T.R. Miller lead to four points after Connell hit a shot and made a free throw after being fouled. 8th grader Avery Rogers hit the first of four 3-point shots on the night, and Haynes had several big rebounds to go along with 7 first half points to cut the T.R. Miller halftime lead to just three points at 22-19.
T.R. Miller came out on fire in the 3rd quarter, scoring the first eight points of the half to build a double-digit lead at 30-19. The Lady Panthers continued to scrape and claw, and managed to cut the lead to just five points heading into the 4th quarter after two 3-point shots by Morgan, as well as a 3-point shot by Connell and a field goal by Haynes.
Trailing 35-30 at the start of the 4th quarter, PCA hoped to repeat their efforts from 2019, when they trailed the same T.R. Miller team in the final period of the Class 3A 3rd round game, only to storm back in the final minutes by creating turnovers on almost every possession the Lady Tigers had the ball, and turning that into made layups or converted free throws after being fouled. After the first T.R. Miller offensive possession resulted in a panicked cross court pass that resulted in a turnover, it almost seemed like history was about to repeat itself. The T.R. Miller coach, perhaps thinking the same thing, quickly called a timeout seconds into the 4th quarter and implored his team to maintain their composure and play with the same manner of consistency that had given them the lead through the first three quarters.
The timeout seemed to help the Lady Tigers, and they extended the lead, but PCA refused to go away, after Connell and Rogers both drained 3-point shots to cut the deficit to just four points at 42-38. Unfortunately for the Lady Panthers, that was the closest they were able to get, as T.R. Miller was able to play turnover free basketball for the most part, and then convert free throws when given the opportunity, ultimately leading to a 54-46 win.
The talent on both teams and quality of basketball was easily at the level seen in the AHSAA Final Four; it just so happened that these teams had to play each other in the 2nd round. For the game, 10th grader Jace Haynes led PCA with 13 points. 8th grader Avery Rogers hit four three pointers and had 12 points. 10th grader EJ Connell, (the most impressive ball handler I’ve seen this year in the Elmore/Autauga area, male or female), also had 12 points. While it might be considered a disappointing finish for a team that advanced to the Final Four last year, the output from the underclassmen on this team assures that PCA will be a force to be reckoned with in Class 3A over the next couple years.