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Birmingham-bound: Bobcats make first trip to Final Four since ’87
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The Phil Campbell Bobcats celebrate their convincing Northwest Regionals victory Monday, which has propelled them to the Final Four.
The Phil Campbell Bobcats celebrate their convincing Northwest Regionals victory Monday, which has propelled them to the Final Four.

By Bart Moss / For the FCT

The last time the Phil Campbell Bobcats reached the Final Four, they were carried by an eighth-grade pig-tailed assist machine who was quickly becoming the face of girls basketball in the state of Alabama: Tonya Tice.

That was 1987 – 31 years ago.

Now it’s 2018, and the Bobcats are once again headed to the Final Four with a chance to play for a state title, running away from the Cold Springs Eagles 46-29.

This time it was sophomore Kallie Allen who led the way for the Bobcats. Allen scored 14 of Phil Campbell’s 20 first-half points and eight straight in a critical stretch with junior forward Abby Davis on the bench with two fouls.  Allen ended the game with 20 points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists, earning her the 2A Northwest Regional MVP.

“I’m not sure what the word is for how Kallie played tonight,” said Phil Campbell coach Craig Thomas. “Big!  She played a great game for us tonight. She came through for us at the right time.”

Allen, who transferred from Russellville in the offseason, helped Thomas put all the pieces together.

“When Kallie came to us this summer, she allowed us to put players in the right spots offensively and defensively,” explained Thomas.

Thomas credited his team’s experience, hard work and focus for advancing to Birmingham.

“This group of girls has worked so hard during the offseason until now,” said Thomas. “They have been focused and determined to do something bigger than we’ve done before. We’ve been (to Wallace) three times.  They were ready to take it to another level.”

Senior point guard Darby Elliott echoed her coach. “We were determined,” she said. “We wanted to win this game, and we played like it. We hustled and got after them on defense, and it created points.”

The Bobcats’ defense forced 24 turnovers from the usually steady ball-handling Cold Springs team.

“That’s the most defensive pressure we’ve faced all year,” said Cold Springs coach Tammy West. “We played them earlier in the year and played a much better game. They have gotten much better as the season has progressed.”

Both teams seemed to have the jitters that come with a pressure-packed game in the first quarter. There were a lot of missed shots in the first half of the opening period.

Phil Campbell scored first one minute into the game and led 8-2 with just over two minutes to go in the first period. The Eagles came back, closing the Bobcats’ lead to 10-7 at the end of the quarter.

Cold Springs took a brief 11-10 lead with 5:32 to go in the second quarter. The lead lasted only one possession, and it was the last one the Eagles would have.

With leading scorer Abby Davis on the bench with two fouls, Thomas put Allen in the middle of the offense, where she scored eight straight points to close out the first half and give the Bobcats a 20-15 lead going into the locker room.

Phil Campbell came out in the third quarter determined to put the game away and turned to their senior leader, Elliott, and Allen. Both players combined scored all the Bobcats’ points in the third quarter.

Elliott scored the Bobcats’ first seven points of the third quarter and helped lead the Bobcats on an 8-0 run that extended their lead to 29-18. Phil Campbell led 35-20 at the end of the third quarter.

From there, the game was all but over. Phil Campbell slowed the game down, forcing Cold Springs to put the Bobcats on the free throw line, where they went seven-of-nine on the night.

Elliott followed Allen in scoring with 13 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Freshman Caitlyn Mills added five points, Chloe Roberson had four points, and Dakota Elliott had two points.

Davis, who was double-teamed all night, had two points, eight rebounds and three assists.

Davis and Elliott joined Allen on the All-Tournament Team.

“We are going to enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, and then we are going to get back to work and hopefully win a state title,” said Thomas.

Thomas gave a lot of credit to his father, Jerry Thomas, who coached the Bobcats to two straight state finals in 1986 and 1987.

“He has been my mentor,” said Thomas.  “He guided me along the way, and I guided the girls. I can’t thank him enough.”

Phil Campbell will play in the state semifinals at Legacy Arena, formerly known as the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, Monday at 3 p.m. The Lady Bobcats will face either Samson or Abbeville.

Road to the Final Four

After a sluggish start of the game, the Phil Campbell Lady Bobcats found their mojo and went on to take down the Mars Hill Panthers 55-46 in the semifinals of the Northwest Regionals Thursday night to earn the chance to face Cold Springs as the final obstacle between them and a Final Four appearance.

The Lady Bobcats made their way to the regionals because of a relentless full court pressure defense.  Thomas said he was concerned, however, about how his team would react to a team that forced them into playing half court.

“We practiced a lot of half-court offense and put a lot of emphasis on moving the ball around, getting the ball to the middle and feeding the ball inside,” said Thomas.

And it worked. Davis, who had trouble scoring early on, finally started hitting some shots in the second quarter and took over the game in the third quarter. Davis scored 14 of the Bobcats’ 16 third quarter points.

Thomas said he was especially pleased with the defensive play of his senior point guard, Darby Elliott.

“Darby had the toughest assignment on the court,” explained Thomas. “She had to stop their best player – Steadman. She was our main concern, and Darby and Kallie (Allen) did an outstanding job on her.”

Anna Steadman led Mars Hill with just 11 points.

Mars Hill raced out to a quick 8-2 lead over the Bobcats in the first quarter, but Dakota Elliott hit three straight shots, scoring seven points and pulling Phil Campbell back to within a point, 10-9. Allen sank a three from the corner to give the Bobcats a 12-10 lead with 00:39 to go in the quarter.

Mars Hill, however, regained the lead on two free throws and a three-pointer to close out the quarter, giving the Panthers a 15-12 lead.

Phil Campbell reclaimed the lead, 16-15, early in the second quarter on a jumper by Davis. Mars Hill, however, hit a three-pointer with just under three minutes to play in the half to tie the game at 21-21.

Phil Campbell took the lead for good with 1:20 to go in the half on a three-pointer by Davis from the corner to make the score 24-21 at halftime.

Davis scored the first 10 points of the third quarter for the Bobcats and 14 of 16 of the team’s points in the third quarter. The Bobcats extended their lead to 40-30 by the end of the third quarter.

The Panthers clawed their way back, pulling to within two points midway through the fourth quarter, but that was a close as they could get. Phil Campbell began to slow the game down and run some clock, forcing the Panthers to foul.

Phil Campbell dominated the boards, out-rebounding Mars Hill 47-33. The Bobcats hit 35 percent of their shots to the Panthers’ 28 percent.

Davis led the Bobcats with a double-double, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Allen followed with 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Darby and Dakota Elliott scored eight points each. Freshman guard Kaitlyn Mills added four points and Chloe Roberson two points. Roberson fouled out of the game with just under six minutes to go in the game.

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