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CHAMPS: The Lanett girls varsity basketball team defeated Loachapoka 45-36 on Thursday night. The Panthers will open up regional play at home. next Monday night. Photo by Rashad Milligan

Lanett girls claim area tournament title with 45-36 win over Loachapoka

LANETT — The Panthers never lost composure in their 45-36 area tournament championship win over Loachapoka on Thursday night.

“We started off a little slow, but they finally came around,” Lanett girls head basketball coach Charlie Williams said. “Jaci Howell carried us through the first half. She hit about three or four three-pointers to keep us in the game because they were packing in the zone trying to stop Alysse Madden.”

The Panthers pulled away in the second half through poise and execution. Carrying a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, senior Crystalyn Sprayberry snuck to the top of the key that set up a touch pass to Madden for a layup to push the lead to three in the low-scoring affair.

“That was a senior making a senior play. I’m proud of her,” Williams said. “I told them that after Ambria [Jackson] went down that some of them were going to have to step up and make some plays.”

The Panthers who received the call up from junior high at the end of the regular season gained some valuable experience in the championship atmosphere as well.

“This is tournament time,” Williams said. “I told them that this is a different feeling, a different emotion. I think a lot of my girls were wide-eyed out there because they didn’t realize how important it was. Laila Lancaster played great. She’s a seventh-grader by grade, but not by basketball time. She stepped her game up a lot tonight.”

Lancaster played for most of the second half before being subbed out for Sprayberry with 1:13 remaining. Lancaster’s presence in the post was needed against the larger Loachapoka team.

“She’s a six-foot-two seventh grader, and she’s still figuring it out,” Williams said. “She’s figuring it out on the run and I love that about her. She comes to practice every day and she’s willing to learn. Even during the game. There was a critical point in the game, we were down one. I was coaching and she tapped me on the shoulder asking me, ‘Coach. What about this? And what about this?’ It’s a moment where I wanted to tell her to sit down and be quiet, but at the same time you’re thinking, ‘wow, she’s really watching the basketball game.’ I’m proud of her.”

Defensively, Lanett keyed in on Loachapoka’s leader Kaitlin Hill by picking her up the length of the floor. Hill became visibly frustrated on the court by the end of the game.

“Jayla Higgins, Samaria Davidson, Jaci Howell, Makaiya Broughton, they did a good job. It was a team effort,” Williams said. “They’re gnats. They stay at it. I had plenty of fouls on the bench, so I was going to use them tonight.”

Lanett now advances to the state tournament, where they will host the first game on Monday night.