The pursuit of a three-peat kicked into gear for the Haralson County High School girls' basketball team on Wednesday evening.
As the host and two-time defending champion of the 42nd Annual Hilburn-Patterson Haralson County Invitational Tournament, the Rebelettes overcame a tough shooting stretch in the opening half to pull away for a 46-28 victory over Central to advance to Friday's finals.
Even though shots weren't falling early, HC head coach Levi Wigley was proud that the defense was right on point, holding the Lady Lions (6-4) to single digits in the first half for the 20-9 advantage going into the break.
"Shots weren't falling, but that's going to happen. The good thing was we gave up nine points. I kind of feel like we can show up every day and play our great defense. Sometimes shots aren't going to fall and that was kind of the story of the first half. We didn't shoot it real well, but played great defense," Wigley said.
The Rebelettes (8-0) busted the game open in the third quarter, building a 39-19 lead heading into the final eight minutes of play and setting up a championship showdown with the winner of tonight's Bremen-Troup County contest on Friday night at 6:30.
"We wanted to push it more, speed the game up a little bit. But (Central) still did a good job of slowing it down at times and not really letting us get out and run," Wigley said. "Getting Alexis (Boykin) back in the second half, she got in foul trouble in the first half, so getting her back really helped things in the third quarter. But we were able to get up the floor and get moving."
A short-handed Central team delivered a gutsy effort against the high-powered Rebelettes, playing their first game without senior point guard Haley Luke, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear during the SMI Carroll County Christmas Classic.
The loss of Luke made an already young team even younger, as she was the lone senior, leaving junior forward Haley Fehring as the only upperclassman among a slew of freshmen and sophomores.
Magnifying the setback even more for Central head coach Josh Smith was having a few other girls out sick Wednesday, resulting in a depleted bench for his squad.
Despite all the adversity, the Lady Lions battled for the duration of the 48 minutes, which is all Smith can ask of this group.
"It's next-girl-up right now. When one or two go down, we're going to start plugging ninth and 10th-graders in and we're going to keep playing. That's all we know how to do," Smith said.
Smith said even though she can't contribute on the court, Luke is still the leader of the team.
"She has so much grit and passion. She was up in the stands (Wednesday) because if she sat on the bench, she might have started tearing up," Smith said. "She's a fighter and she's going to be with us. But the girls played really tough. They held a good Haralson County team to 20 points (in the first half), which I think is safe to say probably hasn't happened this year. Coach Wigley has them firing on all cylinders going into their region play. I look to see them go pretty far in the state tournament."
Fehring led Central with 11 points, followed by Janae Jackson with six. The Lady Lions will face the Troup-Bremen loser in the third-place game on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Indiya Smith paced a balanced Haralson County attack with 12 points, while Tori Causey posted 11 and Claire Robinson added nine.
Haralson County now has a day to prepare for Friday's championship bout, and Wigley said the team will be ready for whoever comes its way in the 6:30 p.m. title tilt.
"Two good teams there, so we've got our work cut out for us," Wigley said. "We'll come in (today) and work on some things that we didn't do so well (Wednesday) and get ready to win our third in a row. The girls' program has a lot of tradition and we want to keep it going."