Fresh off an upset win over South Robeson in the semis, the Lady Bulldogs ran out of steam despite a late comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lady Gators as the regular season league champs added a tournament title to their resume with a 57-48 win.
It was the first league tournament finals for St. Pauls in three seasons.
“Our ladies are such competitors that they’re never satisfied,” St. Pauls first-year coach Michael White said after his team fell for just the second time in their last nine games. “I’d say we’ve done pretty well considering we were picked to finish sixth in the conference.”
Down by as many as 21 early in the second half, the Lady Bulldogs pulled to within five at 53-48 with 2:29 to play behind dual-threat sophomore guards Tia and Tamara Glover. East Columbus responded with consecutive baskets on the next two possessions to simmer St. Pauls’ upset bid.
Lauren Jenkins scored 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for the Lady Gators who avenged an earlier loss to St. Pauls on Feb. 8. East Columbus jumped out to a 14-3 lead to start the game thanks to a few miscues and ill-advised shots from the Lady Bulldogs.
“We played too fast in the first half and we seemed like we were in a hurry,” White said. “I told the girls to be patient after we came back out and to try not to hit a homerun on every possession. We did a good job getting back into the game and never giving up.”
Predicated on defense, White said his team’s game plan was to eliminate the production of star guard Brittany Hall and force other players to score. Jenkins had her way down low as did Kayla Brown from the perimeter to snuff out St. Pauls’ bid for a third straight tournament title.
It was the first time the Lady Bulldogs have given up more than 40 points to an opponent in seven games.
“Our defense has been great the last few weeks,” White said. “We knew that if East Columbus scored more than 40 tonight, we’d probably be in trouble.”