Tough way to end a great season
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
HANCEVILLE – As the seconds ticked away at Hartselle's 57-53 loss to Fairfield Feb. 22, the tears started to flow from senior Shan Jones' eyes. It just wasn't supposed to end this way.
This was supposed to be Hartselle's year. The Lady Tigers had been ranked No. 2 in the state through most of the season, and they had returned all their starters from last year's team that fell in the Northwest Regional semifinals. They were clicking on all cylinders entering their game at Hanceville, after clobbering Mortimer Jordan 63-30 in a sub-regional game.
They had the inside game; they had the outside game; they had the senior and veteran leadership; they had the seasoned coaching staff. It just wasn't supposed to end this way.
Hartselle led throughout the game, after the first, second and third quarters. The Lady Tigers were up 38-35 entering the fourth quarter, needing just eight more minutes of solid ball to advance to the regional final.
Fairfield squeezed in front with 4:38 left, leading 44-42 when Hartselle coach Greg Adams called a timeout to rally his troops. Jessica Andrews then hit a three-pointer nine seconds later, putting Hartselle back in front 45-44 and giving hope to the Lady Tigers' faithful.
Fairfield's response? A three-pointer of its own by Antoria Elliott that put Fairfield back in the lead for good.
Hartselle tried its hardest to get back in the lead or at least tie the game up, but Fairfield seemed to have a response every time. The dagger was with about 30 seconds left, when Jones just missed on a bank shot that could have tied the game at 55-all, then fell to the ground in pain after getting a cramp in her right leg.
That image summed up Hartselle's day at Wallace State. Frustration and pain. It just wasn't supposed to end this way.
"We knew whoever wins the state championship was going to come out of this region," Adams said. "We were hoping it would be us."
Although it might seem a little clich/ at this point, the truth is that these Lady Tigers still accomplished a lot and were more than talented enough to make the Final Four. All anyone has to do is look at the Class 6A Final Four, where Vestavia Hills finished as the Northeast Regional champion. You might remember Vestavia Hills as the team that the Lady Tigers defeated 60-46 to win the Decatur River City Classic back in December.
The Lady Tigers came up short this season, yes, but that doesn't take away from what they did in 2005-06. Finishing with a 26-6 record, improving over last year's 21-9 finish, and winning four tournament championships (Homewood Shootout, River City Classic, Morgan County Tournament and Area 16 tournament) is nothing to sneeze at.
Other than Jones, who will certainly be a huge part of the puzzle to replace not only in scoring but also intangibles and leadership, the nucleus of this year's Hartselle team will be back next season. Andrews, Mary Virginia Reeves and Lauren Drake will all be seniors and the Lady Tigers will be ready to make another run at that elusive Final Four berth.
After two years in a row of falling in the regional semifinals, Hartselle will be ready to do everything it can to make sure that next year it just doesn't end this way.