Lady Bulldogs advance to state finals as defense smothers UMS-Wright in 56-36 win

Priceville players celebrate their win over UMS-Wright in the opening round of the state tournament at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. Photo by Deangelo McDaniel. Priceville players celebrate their win over UMS-Wright in the opening round of the state tournament at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. Photo by Deangelo McDaniel.

The bright lights of Legacy Arena didn’t have an effect on the Priceville Lady Bulldogs. Instead, the Lady Bulldogs played fearless under those bright lights.

“Ever since I have been here, Coach Nelson has wanted us to play fearless,” senior Lauren Hames said. “When we play fearless, everything seems to come easier for us, and we do not let things get in our heads during the game.”

Priceville, who was making their first-ever trip to the AHSAA Final Four, used a dominating defensive performance to run past UMS-Wright 56-36 in the first 4A girls’ semifinal.

The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-3 lead behind three-pointers from sisters Lauren and Leslie Hames. After UMS-Wright cut the lead to 10-7, freshman Abby Langlois scored four quick points that forced a UMS-Wright timeout. Priceville took a 14-7 lead to the second quarter.

Priceville opened the second quarter on an 8-0 run that extended their lead to 22-7 with 5:54 left in the quarter. The Lady Bulldogs’ defense was suffocating the UMS-Wright offense, holding them scoreless for over six minutes of the first half. UMS-Wright finally got on the scoreboard with a little more than four minutes left in the half to make the score 22-9. The Lady Bulldogs were held scoreless for over four minutes of the quarter before they went on a 5-2 run in less than a minute, pushing the lead to 27-14. Priceville scored right before the buzzer to take a 29-14 lead into halftime

After the break, the teams got off to a slow start, combing for five points in a little over two minutes. Following a Priceville timeout with 5:54 remaining in the third, the Lady Bulldogs scored five straight to push the lead to 36-17. However, Priceville continued to pull away, closing the quarter on an 8-5 run to lead 44-22 going to the fourth.

UMS-Wright put up a fight over the first few minutes of the fourth, hitting back-to-back-to-back three-pointers, only to cut the lead by three at 50-31. However, Priceville outscored UMS-Wright 6-5 the rest of the way to seal the twenty-point victory and punch their ticket to the finals.

“Defense has been a big part of our season, and today was no different, ” Priceville head coach Terrie Nelson said. “We want to play fast, and the best way to do that is to get after it on defense.”

The Lady Bulldogs scored 25 points off of 22 turnovers by UMS-Wright. Priceville’s defense held the UMS-Wright offense to 25.5% shooting.

Leslie Hames led Priceville (23-8) with 15 points. Gracin Prater added 12 points, seven steals, five assists and four rebounds. Lauren Hames and Abby Langlois each had eight points and five rebounds. Langlois also had two blocks and two steals. Ashland Johnson scored five points and had a career-high 10 rebounds.

“Gracin gives 110% every moment she is on the floor,” Nelson said. “She tries to get every loose ball and plays tremendous defense on every play. She is the player who, when you take her off the court, she can’t breathe because she plays so hard.”

Noel Freeman led UMS-Wright (30-6) with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Elizabeth Meador added 12 points.

Priceville will be the first Morgan County Schools team to play for a team state championship since Brewer in 2012.

The Lady Bulldogs will meet No. 3 Prattville Christian(33-3), the two-time defending 3A state champions, in the finals on Friday at 4 pm.