By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
It’s true: Defense wins championships.
The time-tested coaching adage was on display live and in color Saturday night as the No. 1-ranked Union City girls used the tried and true method to win the District 14A tournament title with a 46-32 triumph over South Fulton.
UC’s season-long calling card of relentless physical pressure — both on the perimeter and in the paint — held an opponent to less than 40 points for a 20th time this season and forced the Devilettes into 31 percent shooting (12-of-38). The Lady Twisters limited SF to six points or less in three of four quarters and forced more than 20 turnovers in beating the tourney’s No. 2 seed for the third time in as many meetings this season.
The league championship was just the second in the modern era program history for the Lady Tornadoes (26-3), who ran their winning streak to 15 straight and established another new record for wins in a single season. The triumph also capped a stretch that saw Union City go unbeaten in district play through the regular season and in tourney play — a span of 17 games.
UC, which won the school’s only other girls’ 5-on-5 district tournament championship in 2007 and was playing in the title game for the third consecutive year, will now play host to District 13A fourth-place finisher, West Carroll (18-10), in a Region 7A quarterfinal game Thursday night.
South Fulton, meanwhile, which was playing in its first district title game in nine seasons, will take a 22-7 mark into a home first-round regional contest against Huntingdon (24-5) Thursday.
The semifinals and championship of the Region 7A tourney are scheduled for Huntingdon — though if District 14A sweeps its first-round games, league champion Union City would host those three games.
The Lady Tornadoes simply did to SF what they’ve done to almost everybody this season in Saturday’s championship tilt.
“It’s who we are and it’s what we’ve stressed all season,” said Union City’s Eddie Suiter, voted coach of the year by his peers. “We had three excellent defensive quarters, I thought, and kids did exactly what we asked them to.
“I think it speaks volumes when we have somebody like Kealie Reaves, who may’ve averaged three points a game all season, make the all-district team by a vote of coaches simply for what she does for us defensively. Our kids know what we try to do works. It’s simple, but defense has always been a big part of the recipe for winning.”
UC held the Devilettes’ ‘Big 3’ of league MVP Taleeah Cross, Laken Haley and Ka-lon Martin to just 22 combined points in the contest with Cross netting eight of her team-high 12 markers in the first half and Haley getting nearly all of her 10 on three 3-point shots. Martin, a double-figure scorer on average for the season, did not tally in the contest.
“They’re just old-school; they’re not fancy,” South Fulton head coach Curt Lee said of the Twister girls. “They’re big and physical. They contest certain passes and they don’t allow you any free looks inside. They give you no free movement, and you have to be both physically and mentally tough on the offensive end to have success against them.
“We didn’t make any shots to speak of, and we have got into any rhythm on the offensive end. We needed big games from our best players and some of our role players to step up, too, and that just didn’t happen.”
Union City led from wire-to-wire, scoring the game’s first seven points and holding SF without a score for nearly the first five minutes and just two field goals for the entire first quarter.
Up 12-6 after one, the Lady Tornadoes built the first of their double-digit leads behind hard-working Jackie Hudson inside. Hudson (15 points) converted back-to-back 3-point plays and was responsible for 10 straight points by herself in the latter stages of the second frame to help UC open a 23-13 advantage.
The 15-point period proved to be South Fulton’s best, though, and after a Cross 3-pointer and deuce by Landry Webster had earlier gotten the host team within two points, the Devilettes got a huge lift off the bench from freshman Taylor Rogers, who made a nice scoop shot and her second 3-pointer to draw SF within 25-21 in the waning seconds before the intermission.
Union City seized back momentum, though, when Raven Fair drained a 3-pointer just before the halftime horn to stretch the lead to seven (28-21).
The Twister girls slowly pulled away and built an insurmountable lead in the third quarter, getting a 3-pointer from Reaves and scores from Hudson, Tory Reedy and Kaleigh Bynum to go up by as many as 15 points on two separate occasions while South Fulton was making just two field goals in the stanza.
The Devilettes could get only as close as 42-30 in the waning moments — that on a trey by Haley — before Tamara Nettles converted back-to-back buckets from inside to end any suspense.
“This was one of our goals, but certainly not the last one,” Suiter added. “It’s something the kids wanted and they worked hard to accomplish it.
“We have to keep the switch flipped, though, because there’s no room for a slip-up with the regional starting next Thursday.”
Hudson and Reedy joined Reaves as members of the all-district team for the champions, while Haley and Martin were named for SF — in addition to Cross.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.18.13