NE Regional: Another regional title for Class 5A girls power Brewer
by Mark Edwards
medwards@annistonstar.com
Feb 22, 2013 | 2983 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — It took 24 years for Ricky Allen to reach the Final Four as Brewer's girls basketball coach, but now it's like trying to drink from a fire hose.

Since winning that first regional title in 2009 and advancing to the Class 5A Final Four, Brewer has won three more crowns in four years under Allen. The latest came Thursday as the Patriots played what they called less than their best but still ran over Columbia 69-39 in the Northeast Regional championship game.

"I'm excited," Allen said. "It never gets old."

Brewer (32-1), which won its first state title a year ago, will return to the BJCC Arena in Birmingingham on Wednesday to face South Regional champion Faith Academy (28-4), the same team the Patriots beat in last year's semifinals.

In a difference from 2009, however, Brewer's players didn't pile on top of each other at midcourt after Thursday's win, as some regional champs have done at Jacksonville State this week. The Patriots have gone from the Cinderella of the basketball ball to the No. 1-ranked favorites who kind of expected to get back to the state semifinals.

Only one team member has played on a Brewer varsity that didn't win regionals -- senior guard Rheagan Harvel, who was part of the Patriots squad her freshman year that lost in the regional semifinals.

"We've approached this season as 'Never Satisfied,' " said Brewer's Riley Northway, who won regional most valuable player honors for the third straight year. "We appreciate what we've done, but it's good not to be super excited. ... We're looking ahead to bigger games."

The Brewer team didn't even spend the day in Jacksonville. With Allen wanting to keep to a normal schedule as much as possible, the players attended school in the morning. The team rode the bus to Jacksonville State, arriving at the arena about two hours before the 4 p.m. tipoff.

Columbia (17-18), which lost to Brewer three times before Thursday by a combined 75 points, appeared primed to pull off the upset ... for about a minute.

The Eagles' Jasmynn Batts drove through the heart of the Brewer defense and scored the first two baskets for a 4-0 lead. But Brewer responded, with Northway hitting a basket to start a 15-0 run.

Brewer had some stops and starts the rest of the way, although the Patriots never led by fewer than 11 points. Allen's team never seemed to develop the rythm it did in a 25-point regional semifinal win over Center Point.

"I hate to be negative when we've just won a big basketball game, but this wasn't our best game of the year," Allen said.

Northway finished with team highs in points (24) and rebounds (nine). Sophomore Malerie Drinkard added 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Sophomore Savana Flack scored 12 points and blocked three shots. All three made the all-tournament team.

"They're a very good team," Columbia coach LeVar Bell said. "They play very hard. They execute their players offensively and defensively. They just play very hard."

As for the coming week, Allen said his team embraces entering the 5A Final Four as a favorite instead of an underdog, as it was a year ago.

"These young ladies love pressure," he said. "They absolutely love it. They love having the target on their backs."
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