The final buzzer sounded and something significant had just happened, but the South girls basketball team was more concerned over seating for the Homecoming festivities than their spot in history after a 51-36 victory over Heights on Friday.
The Titans completed a season sweep of Heights, the City League champions 10 of the past 11 seasons. That has never happened, at least not in the 12-year reign of Kip Pulliam.
South, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A, improved to 18-1 and is a win away in its season finale at East from clinching, at the very least, a share of its first league title in 35 years.
But none of that resonated with a team of mostly underclassmen. Coach Antwain Scales, in two short years, has transformed the culture within the program. Winning state-caliber games such as Friday no longer elicits a wild celebration – or one at all.
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“We demand them in the classroom, we demand them outside of the classroom and we definitely demand them on the basketball court,” Scales said. “It’s been a long road, but it’s a ride I’m not ready to end right now.”
Heights has long been the measuring stick for success. To surpass that bar never seemed improbable to South. What the players lack in experience, they make up for in their confidence groomed by Scales.
“I knew this was possible because we work hard and work on all of the little things,” South junior Madison Northcutt said. “But yeah, it’s a good feeling.”
Heights takes over games not through its crisp play, but by creating havoc with its trapping defense. While their aggressiveness squeezed out some turnovers, the Falcons’ typical advantage was turned into a liability by South.
Scales has elevated South because it is more fundamentally sound than the other team. The Titans knew holding the ball against Heights was a turnover waiting to happen, so they swung the ball to the weak side for open shots and fouls.
South made 23 of 29 free throws, magnified by a 8-of-19 performance by Heights.
“We have to understand what Heights’ motive and their reasoning is for why they play the way they do,” Scales said. “They get steal after steal on teams because they impose their will, as far as pressure is concerned. We try to keep our kids poised.”
South had three in double figures with Kendrian Elliott (14 points), Kirea Rogers (13) and Northcutt (11), while Heights was led by Jada Lynch with 15 points.
Heights missed its opportunity to swoop in for victory when South turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter. The Falcons (13-5) whittled the deficit to 42-36, but that’s the closest they came in the second half.
“We’re not making the plays to win games right now and we’ve struggled all year with it,” Pulliam said. “They made plays and they made free throws and we didn’t. That’s just them taking care of business.”
And the Titans’ business is far from over.
“They remember state champions,” Scales said, “so that’s what we want to accomplish.”
Heights: Trussell 1 1-4 3, Lynch 5 4-5 15, Palmer 4 1-2 10, Reid 1 0-0 2, Harding 1 0-2 2, Brown 0 0-0 0, Owens 0 0-2 0, Parks 1 2-4 4. Totals 13 (2) 8-19 36.
South: Franklin 2 3-6 7, Horton 0 0-0 0, Rogers 5 3-4 13, Northcutt 3 5-6 11, Broehl 0 0-0 0, Elliott 4 6-6 14, Mattingly 0 2-2 2, Dodson 0 4-5 4. Totals 14 (0) 23-29 51.