Lady Cavaliers headed to state
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
TEMPLE – This is familiar territory for the Callaway Lady Cavaliers.
Callaway has qualified for the state tournament every season under head coach Deyano Martin, and that trend will continue thanks to Tuesday’s 53-48 victory over Spencer in the Region 5-AA tournament.
Callaway, the tournament’s fourth seed, advances to the semifinals where it will play top-seeded Lamar County on
Thursday at 7 p.m. at Spencer High in Columbus.
Regardless of the outcome of that game, Callaway will be one of the 32 participants in the Class AA state tournament.
“That’s eight straight years where we’ve gone to the region semifinals, and gone to state, and that’s always a plus,” Martin said. “It’s a tough situation when you’re a fourth seed.”
Fifth-seeded Spencer lost twice to Callaway during the regular season, but both games were competitive and were decided by a combined six points.
Tuesday’s game ended up being determined by five points, but Callaway had a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
Trailing by 12 points with a little more than two minutes to play, Spencer scored the game’s final seven points, but the outcome was never in doubt.
“Overall I’m proud,” Martin said. “At times we played well, and we made timely shots, and we had timely defensive stops. I thought the strategy was good. Don’t try to get in a track meet. We didn’t want to press them. Just get back and play ball.”
Sophomore guard Gabrielle Johnson, who had her first career 30-point game last week against Valley, nearly reached that milestone on Tuesday.
Johnson finished with 29 points, with 16 of those points coming in the first half as Callaway built a 13-point lead.
Sophomore post player Camryn Stargell added 13 points, and she made her presence felt inside blocking shots and pulling down rebounds.
Niakoe Burks made a 3-pointer and scored five points, and Javonna Bradford had four points, all in the first quarter.
The Lady Cavaliers got off to a slow start offensively, and they were trailing 6-2 when Johnson made a 3-pointer nearly five minutes into the game to get her team within one.
Johnson made another 3-pointer later in the first quarter to give Callaway its first lead, and it was tied 10-10 as the quarter came to a close.
Callaway took control in the second quarter, with Johnson scoring eight of the points during a 10-0 run to put Spencer in a 20-10 hole.
Spencer was within eight when Burks hit a 3-pointer to make it an 11-point game, and Johnson scored with 11 seconds left in the second quarter to give Callaway a 27-14 lead, and that was the score at the half.
The Lady Cavaliers maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the third quarter, and they had a 39-27 lead as the final quarter began.
Spencer got as close as eight early in the fourth quarter, but back-to-back baskets by Stargell and Johnson pushed the lead to 43-30 with 5:30 to play.
The lead was down to nine when Stargell pulled down an offensive rebound and scored with 3:20 to play to put Callaway on top 50-39.
Serenity Hill made her only basket of the game with 2:04 left to give Callaway a 53-41 lead.
The Lady Cavaliers didn’t score again, but they’d built a big enough lead where it didn’t matter.
Spencer scored with four seconds left to get within five, and Callaway ran out the clock.
Next up is Lamar County, which won two close games against Callaway during the regular season.
If Callaway wins that game, it will play for the region championship on Saturday at 6 p.m. If Callaway loses to Lamar, it will play in the third-place game on Saturday at 3 p.m.