By Erik Harris
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — The Mountain Brook girls advanced past Gardendale in Thursday night’s sub-regional contest by a 54-37 score.
The Spartans were forced to make the road trip without their starting point guard and leading scorer Mary Katherine Pinson. The junior has scored well over 300 points this season while commanding Mountain Brook’s fast-paced style to a 21-6 record.
The visitors seemed unflustered by the absence of their leader by starting the game off on a 15-8 run. Freshman Nicole Strahl would come off the bench to show her skills from the perimeter, giving Mountain Brook their first double-digit lead as the opening quarter came to an end.
“We have done a great job lately of getting off to a fast start,” said Spartans head coach Mark Cornelius, a Gardendale alumnus and all-state player who formerly coached the Rockets’ boys varsity team. “We hit some shots early and that let us relax, but Gardendale never died.”
Before Gardendale could get to the bench for second-quarter adjustments, senior guard Ellie Mouyal crippled the Rockets with a buzzer-beating trey from left of the circle to secure a 24-10 Spartan lead.
“I was really proud how we bounced back after that first quarter,” said Gardendale head coach Amy Barnett. “It was just hard to overcome that deficit we had in the first.”
Despite a solid 47-percent shooting performance from the field, Gardendale managed only 23 first-half points. Mountain Brook’s full-court press had the Rockets flying out of control for much of the night, especially early.
“We had worked on it all week long, but it was a much faster pace than what we’re used to,” said Barnett.
With Gardendale struggling to control tempo, the Spartans recorded 14 steals and kept the home team at a comfortable distance on the scoreboard.
“Our press was effective, but it wasn’t as effective as it usually is because we had people in different spots,” said Cornelius.
The Rockets faced a 15-point deficit going into the final period, and after surrendering 11 offensive rebounds to the eighth-ranked Spartans, had little hope of a comeback.
While giving up second-chance opportunities to Mountain Brook throughout the game, Gardendale was unable to produce second looks of their own. The Spartans held them to one-and-outs all night as they secured 18 defensive rebounds.
The game was really lost after Mountain Brook took the court to start the second half, flying out on a 10-3 run. At that point, the host Rockets could never cut it to single digits again.
Gardendale’s Chelsey Deloney scored 14 points and recorded five rebounds in her final game as a Rocket. Chelsea Robinson also ended her Gardendale career with eight points and nine boards. Junior Mallorie Corbin could only muster six points from the outside.
Mountain Brook moves on to the Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville next week. Gardendale ends its season with a 23-7 record.