SAMSON - The Samson Tigers put an emphatic end to their recent regional semifinal jinx Thursday night.
In a battle of top three state-ranked teams, the No. 3 Tigers pulled away from the No. 2-ranked and previously undefeated Winterboro Bulldogs 57-35 in a Class 1A Southeast Regional semifinal game at the Samson gym.
The win snapped a two-year losing streak in regional semifinal games after the Tigers won the state title in 2018. More importantly, it advanced Samson (24-3) to this year’s regional championship game in Montgomery’s Garrett Coliseum. The Tigers will play Wednesday at 1 p.m. against either Georgiana or Talladega County Central.
Winterboro finished the season with a 23-1 record.
“Our intensity was just out the roof as we played with a lot of emotion,” Samson head coach Chad McKnight said. “We talked that this game has been our Achilles the last two years – the semifinals of the regional. We have been eliminated the last two years in this round.
“Having it here tonight was special. Playing a team that was ranked No. 2 ahead of us that is undefeated was special. We talked about all the special opportunities that we had and to make the most of it.”
Defensively, Samson bottled up the Bulldog offense, especially in the first half. Winterboro, located in Talladega County, made only one field goal in the first half – a banked 3-pointer – but finished the half 1-of-24 overall. It also had 10 turnovers.
“I told the kids that I felt they we were going to be the best defensive team that they have seen all year because a lot of the teams up there run and gun,” McKnight said. “We can’t do that, but we can get after them on defense. We felt if we could slow them down and make them run half-court sets that we had a shot.”
Winterboro made 12-of-57 overall in the game with 20 turnovers.
Samson led nearly the whole game, though it stayed tight early.
After both teams appeared nervous with early turnovers, Brantley Edberg hit a long 3-pointer from the right wing off a pass from Kinley Johnson to put Samson up 3-0 with 4:54 left.
Winterboro tied it on the banked 3-pointer by Jasmine Fluker, but the Tigers answered 11 seconds later with another Edberg trey to go up 6-3.
Samson extended the margin to 10-3 off two free throws and a fastbreak layup by Johnson before 1-of-2 free throws by Winterboro’s Brianna Jackson cut the margin to 10-4 near the end of the first quarter.
After another free throw by Winterboro made it 10-5 nine seconds into the second quarter, Samson scored eight straight to build an 18-5 advantage. Alli Goodwin had six of the points – four on fastbreak baskets off passes by Johnson. Godwin and Johnson also drove inside for a layup, a common feature of the Tiger offense on the night.
“I love the way we took the ball to the hoop,” McKnight said. “We had a couple swatted out of there, but we also made some and got some fouls.”
Winterboro, which hit 7-of-12 free throws in the first half, ended the Samson run with two free throws by Jada Lawler, but the Tigers finished the half on an 8-2 run to go to the halftime break up 25-9.
The Bulldogs made a charge early in the third quarter with a 7-2 run to cut the deficit to 11, but Samson’s defense forced three turnovers and Johnson converted a putback and free throw with 3:24 left to stop the Winterboro surge.
A 3-pointer by Shaylei Mock with 2:23 left after an offensive rebound by Jazmine Duff seemed to deflate Winterboro and started a 10-0 run to end the period to push the Tigers up 40-18 and sending McKnight and the Samson crowd into a frenzy as the quarter horn sounded.
The Tigers built the margin as big as 26 in the final quarter before settling for the 22-point win.
Johnson led Samson with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Goodwin followed with 16 points and Edberg had 13 points as seven Tigers scored overall. Trinity Jenkins, despite foul trouble, had seven rebounds.
Jackson had nine points to lead Winterboro.