The Bremen High School girls’ basketball coach endured a third straight gut-wrencher to tip off the 37th Annual Haralson County Invitational Tournament on Thursday afternoon, as her Lady Blue Devils held on to knock off Central for the second time in less than a week in another down-to-the-wire affair, 36-33.
Bremen’s last three games have all been nail-biters, and the outcome of this one wasn’t decided until the Lady Lions (5-4) missed a pair of 3-point attempts in the final 7.8 seconds, moving the Lady Blue Devils (8-3) into the semifinal round where they will play Heard County (2-4) today at 4 p.m.
And while last week’s 51-43 ball game was more of a back-and-forth barnburner at Central in the semifinal round of the West Georgia Holiday Classic, Thursday’s contest was a defensive struggle from start to finish.
“That’s what you get when you get two good teams playing against each other. You never know what to expect. You may have some off-nights shooting, but you’ve got to come out and be ready to play some defense,” Matthews said. “I think that’s what both teams did [Thursday]. They came out ready to play some good defense.”
Both teams had to shake off a little holiday hangover in the early goings, with the Lady Lions leading 11-8 after the first quarter before connecting on just one field goal in the second stanza to fall behind 17-14 at the break. Bremen could have extended its lead further, but struggled from the free-throw line in the opening 16 minutes, going just 3-of-10 from the charity stripe.
“We looked like we were still asleep. Thankfully, we were able to pick it up and get it going when it mattered,” Matthews said.
The intensity grew as the game got deeper, with Bremen building an eight-point lead early in the second half, only to see Central rally back and tie the game at 25-all in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
After both teams swapped 6-0 runs, Kalia Johnson hit the shot of the game, draining a 3-pointer right in front of the Bremen bench to put the Lady Blue Devils ahead for good at 34-31 with 1:04 remaining.
Central had its chances late, though, using a Brianna Cousins bucket to pull within 34-33 and then got the ball back off a missed free throw with 28.6 seconds left.
On the possession, Central’s Sherae Bonner was whistled for a charge driving down the lane with 20 seconds left, giving the ball back to Bremen.
After Lady Blue Devil senior shooting guard Jordan Hill knocked down a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to push the score to 36-33, the Lady Lions quickly got the ball up to midcourt and called a timeout with 7.8 ticks remaining.
On the out-of-bounds play, Central found Bonner in the left corner for a trey, but the shot rimmed off long to Wesli Simmons, who attempted a quick turnaround jumper from beyond the arc in the right corner that was also off-target, ending the game.
Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc said it was another tough finish against the Lady Blue Devils, noting that his ball club had its chances late in the game.
“A lot of things went against us. We had an opportunity when we tied it up 31-31 and got three consecutive stops down there, but then turned the ball over two of the three times and had a missed shot the third time,” LeBlanc said. “That was our chance to kind of go ahead right there, and we didn’t do it. I think that was probably the deciding time.”
Bonner led Central with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Cousins posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. The Lady Lions return to action today at 2:30 p.m. against Rockmart, which dropped a 56-26 decision to South Paulding on Thursday.
Bremen, which was led by Hill with 17 points and seven rebounds, will get its first test against new Region 5-AA foe Heard County for the right to move into Saturday night’s championship game.
“We’re expecting another tough one. It’s definitely not going to be easy. You know, region champs from last year. They’re going to come out ready to play. They had a day off [Thursday]. Hopefully, we’ll come out ready to play. We’ll work on some things between now and then and hopefully make some corrections and try to put a few more points on the board [Friday],” Matthews said.