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Freeman sparks Cottage Hill girls’ surge to state tournament

Cottage Hill Christian Academy’s Dakota Freeman drives upcourt during the Warriors’ 47-37 win over Straughn in the Class 3A girls South Regional finals Wednesday at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. Freeman scored 21 points to lead CHCA into the state tournament. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

 

Cottage Hill coach Brad Newton hugs his daughter, Ashlyn Newton, after the Warriors’ victory Wednesday in Montgomery. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

 

 

 

By JIMMY WIGFIELD

MONTGOMERY — Cottage Hill Christian Academy’s girls team got into Dakota Territory Wednesday and took down the final roadblock on the way to Birmingham.

Senior guard Dakota Freeman — whose return from an ankle injury is the epitome of the Warriors’ comeback season — scored 16 of her team’s 27 points in the second half and Cottage Hill went on to beat Straughn 47-37 in the Class 3A girls South Regional finals at Garrett Coliseum to advance to the state tournament.

The Warriors (15-13), who have won 11 of their last 12 games after a 3-9 start, will meet Susan Moore or Plainview in the state final four Tuesday at noon at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena.

“The second half, I felt like every time I shot, it happened to go in,” Freeman said.

Freeman scored 16 points and was 5 of 11 from the field in the second half; the rest of her teammates made four field goals combined.

Freeman’s recovery from an ankle injury in the second game was the lit match thrown onto a pile of dry leaves.

“She’s an incredible athlete and loves to score,” CHCA coach Brad Newton said. “When she came back, it was the boost that pushed us to where we are.”

Freeman said she had her doubts the Warriors could get this far when they were 3-9.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “We came together as a team. When we were 3-9, I didn’t think we’d make it. But after Christmas, there was a drastic change in the energy. I feel like we’re peaking. We’re going to give the effort. We’ve been a second-half team this year.”

They were a second-half team Wednesday, breaking away from a 20-15 halftime lead by shooting at 50% while holding the Tigers (21-7) to 9-of-34 shooting in the final two periods.

“All year long they were told, ‘You can’t do it, you can’t do it,’” Newton said of his players. “It wasn’t pretty at times today but we guarded really well and offensively we hit enough shots.”

After a first period in which Cottage Hill led just 4-2, Newton found a positive.

“We were seeing success on the defensive end,” he said. “I told them to keep shooting and they’ll start to go down. The confidence we’re playing with is incredible.”

The Warriors led for all but 31 seconds despite trouble in the interior. They got outscored 20-8 in the paint, 16-5 off second chances and got outrebounded 47-39. Oddly enough, despite getting beaten on the boards, Cottage Hill outscored Straughn 16-6 off the fast break.

Ashlyn Newton added 12 points and Sydney Roossinck 10 rebounds for CHCA, which made 11 of 21 free throws to the Tigers’ 2 of 9.

“It’s surreal at this point,” coach Newton said. “It’s been a heckuva ride. When we were 3-9, we were banged up, so hurt. But I felt like we could do something special like this. I didn’t know if we’d get the opportunity. January 9th was when we got everybody back and we’re playing great basketball.”

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