0108 We2 ECHS girls hoops

Caleb Turrentine / Tallapoosa Publishers Elmore County’s (23) defends Wetumpka’s Janae McCall (20) during Friday’s semifinal in the Elmore County Tournament.

The first two and a half minutes of basketball could not have gone worse for Wetumpka during Friday night’s matchup with Elmore County in the county tournament semifinal. The Panthers scored the first 10 points of the game with four different players finding the scoresheet, appearing to take early control of the game.

However, Wetumpka had a big response up its sleeve and pushed into the lead before the end of the opening quarter. It rode that momentum to grab a double-digit lead before halftime and the rest of night went off without a hitch as Wetumpka defeated the Panthers 65-37, advancing to Saturday’s championship game against host Stanhope Elmore.

“I don’t know if they weren’t mentally ready or if we took the other team lightly,” Wetumpka coach Jermel Bell said. “Once we got it flowing and got in the swing of things, we started playing harder and we started playing our brand of basketball.”

It started on the defensive end of the floor for Wetumpka as the team racked up 23 steals and forced the Panthers into 39 turnovers. During an 18-5 run in the second quarter, Wetumpka scored six consecutive layups off turnovers to get into the lead for good.

“That’s just our brand of ball,” Bell said. “We wanted to speed them up and we use that to our advantage. It’s about having 84-feet of pressure and pushing the tempo. We made them play to our strength which is speed and ball pressure.”

Angel Knight was often at the top of that defense, pulling the assignment of guarding Elmore County point guard Kelley Green. Knight limited Green to just 4 points, all from the free throw line, and forced her into nine turnovers. On the offensive end, Knight added five points and two assists.

“Angel played fantastic tonight,” Bell said. “We didn’t know much about Elmore County coming into tonight so she didn’t know anything pregame but she really took on the challenge. That’s what we’re looking for from a senior.”

Wetumpka’s offense was led by Janae McCall for the second straight night, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds plus four steals. Morgan Causey also neared a double-double, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds while adding three blocks and three steals on defense.

Wetumpka has a quick turnaround for its next game as the championship game against area rival Stanhope Elmore is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. tip off in Millbrook.

“It’s definitely a tough task but it’ll show how mentally tough we are moving forward,” Bell said. “I know it’s three nights in a row of rivalry games but I expect our girls to step up.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.