It didn’t take long for reality to set in with the Trinity girls.
Bruised and battered by the physical play of the Midfield Patriots, which went largely unchecked by officials, the smaller Wildcats faced an uphill battle to win the Class 3A Central Regional title.
“It was very difficult and very frustrating,” said Trinity’s leading scorer, Janie Hampton. “When they let it go like that, we don’t really have a chance.”
Midfield used four 3-pointers in a four-minute span to turn the game in their favor, then outmuscled the Wildcats the rest of the way to grab a 57-44 win at Alabama State’s Acadome on Saturday morning.
Midfield (21-10) will face Lauderdale County on Wednesday in the state tournament at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
Trinity ends the season at 19-8.
While the more experienced, better shooting Patriots had the upper hand from the opening tip, the game was evenly played before Gabrielle Nicholson hit a 3-pointer late in the first quarter and teammate Destini Brownlee added another that banked in off the glass.
Nicholson added another a minute into the second quarter, followed by one from Devin Brownlee, and Midfield had a 25-16 lead.
“I think that was the difference in the game,” Trinity coach Blake Smith said. “We knew going into it they could penetrate and they could shoot and they had three or four players that could do both of those. So, honestly, I think our girls did a pretty good job to somewhat contain them. If they miss a few of those 3’s, it’s a whole other ballgame.”
Of course, Smith would have needed to figure out a way to combat the physical style of the Midfield defense.
“There’s no question that the more physical they allow the game, the bigger advantage it is to the team playing us,” he said. “We’re just small, and you can try to play physical, but they’re always going to have the advantage when it’s like that.
“We talked about it, being able to take bumps, and we knew there were going to be hand checks, but at the end of the day, it hurts us.”
Midfield coach Charles Thomas wasn’t happy about the officiating, either. The two coaches spent more time yelling at the officials than instructing their own players.
“Our (officials’) association has prepared us for this,” Thomas said. “We really felt like we haven’t gotten a lot of calls all year long and that helped us.”
“It was real tough because the referees weren’t calling fouls,” said most valuable player Nicholson, who had 11 points but seven turnovers, “but you have to play through it and you have to keep pushing.”
Midfield struggled through the contact, but the Patriots already had the lead. Trinity, meanwhile, hit just two field goals in the third quarter while committing seven turnovers, thwarting a comeback.
“In the first quarter, they hit every 3 they took,” Hampton said. “We were pretty even with them and then they started hitting all those 3’s. We kept playing through that and then the officials were letting everything go. That was probably the thing that got us down.”
Hampton scored a game-high 13 points, but the junior was shadowed everywhere she went.
“They had me covered 24-7,” Hampton said. “I couldn’t get the ball or anything. It was very frustrating.”
“Our game plan was, if we score, we wanted to pick up full court and put a face guard on No. 24 (Hampton),” Thomas said. “As I observed (Trinity’s first regional) game, I thought they were very, very stagnant when she did not have the ball.”
Claire Wilder added 11, but the Trinity girls were betrayed by their outside shooting. The Wildcats made just one 3-pointer in nine attempts and had trouble putting together any type of offense despite forcing 23 turnovers.
Midfield clinched its ninth consecutive regional title, including seven straight Central Regional titles, with the win. Trinity, meanwhile, was making its first regional appearance since 2000.
“We had the best season we’ve ever had,” Hampton said. “It was so exciting just getting here. We got here, and hopefully next year we’ll get back.”
With just two seniors, the Wildcats aren’t likely to sneak up on anyone next season.
“I think the biggest thing is I knew these girls had the potential to beat a lot of teams, (but it was) them just starting to believe they could,” Smith said. “I think they realize now they can compete with a lot of teams. Teams wouldn’t get film on us because they thought they were going to beat us. Toward the end of the year, that was motivation for (his players) to play hard and try to beat them.”