HANCEVILLE – Tuscaloosa County High School’s tournament run came to an end with a 77-37 loss to the top-ranked Sparkman  girls in an AHSAA Class 7A regional semifinal game at Wallace State Community College on Thursday afternoon.

It was the Wildcats’ first appearance in the Sweet 16 since moving up to Class 7A competition. TCHS wrapped up its season with an overall record of 23-8 and as Area 5 runner-ups in both regular and postseason play.

“I am proud of what we did this year. We have never been here before. It’s something new. It’s a lot of fans, and it’s a different atmosphere, and we got caught up in all of the stuff,” TCHS coach Jacob Haas said. “We started off sluggish. We started off slow. They are a spectacular team, and we didn’t do the right things to stop them on defense. I thought offensively we had a good game plan, but we turned the ball over too much with their pressure. This is a really good team, and we didn’t show it today.”

Sparkman’s defensive pressure flustered TCHS early. The Senators jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first few minutes, and outscored the Wildcats 26-10 in the first quarter. They had a 47-19 halftime advantage and forced 14 TCHS turnovers, including 10 steals.

“I really felt like the first half, and really that first four minutes of the game, we kind of set the tempo with our defense and our press,” Senators coach Patrick Delay said. “We knew if we could handle their pressure, we had a pretty good chance to be successful.”

TCHS scored some early baskets against Sparkman to open up the second half, and slowed down the Senators’ scoring spurts.

“We calmed down and we protected the ball a little bit better,” Haas said. “Our speed was still a little bit slow, but by that point the scoreboard kind of had us frustrated. I think we went from scared to frustrated, and we never really played good County High basketball.”

Junior Tamia Knight led the Wildcats in scoring with 12 points. She scored eight of TCHS’s 10 first-quarter points, and said she knew she had to score and step up. Senior Morgan McShan and freshman Nadia Spencer had six points apiece.

“It meant a lot because we have never been here before,” McShan said. “I think everybody was nervous.”

Nine players contributed to Sparkman’s scoring, and four finished in the double digits. Terri Smith had 15 points, both Jayla Walker and Derriene Black had 14 points and Deserea Walker added 10 points.

The Senators outrebounded the Wildcats, 44-27.

Sparkman (29-4) advances to next Tuesday’s Northwest regional final against Area 5 champions Hoover at 9 a.m..

“Now that we’ve got here, we have a lot of underclassmen that play a lot of minutes, and hopefully we’ll get back again soon and understand what we are walking into,” Haas said. “It is hard to prepare a team for that, when the biggest crowd we played in front of probably all year was about 400 kids.” 

Reach Joey Chandler at joey.chandler@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.