Lady Seahawks can’t finish comeback in first-round loss

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017

PRINCETON — Danielle Ruffin and Michaela Dixon each hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter. The sharpshooting cut Southside’s deficit to one possession, 43-40, with plenty of time left in the final period, but the Lady Seahawks couldn’t complete the comeback in a 56-48 first-round exit.

Despite never having had the lead, the Lady Seahawks felt like they were in the driver’s seat of their first-round playoff game at Princeton.

“I knew we were in command,” Southside coach Milton Ruffin said. “The game had changed right there. We had them in foul trouble, so I felt good right there.”

The Lady Bulldogs disagreed. They hit key shots from the get go. Even when Southside climbed back into the game, they never felt like they had lost control.

“We just did what we’ve pretty much been doing all year. I feel like, when you get to the playoffs, you’ve still got to do the same things,” Princeton coach Paula Wooten said. “We did start off really well. In the second half, pressure sometimes bothered us. We can handle the ball, but sometimes it’s mental. … We led the whole game. We weren’t going to let them come back and beat us. We stepped up.”

Southside thrived using its full-court press. There were times that Princeton was able to break it both by passing through it or leaving it up to its skilled ball handlers. It also oftentimes produced easy looks for the Lady Seahawks, and helped keep them dialed into the game.

“We’ve been working on that the whole year. It’s state playoff time, so slide your feet and stay with your man,” Ruffin said.

Princeton used a pair of 3-point plays to get an immediate spark. Southside called a timeout a minute and a half into the game, trailing 6-0. Jada Jones’ triple cut Princeton’s lead to 8-5, but the hosts got baskets from three different players to fuel an 8-0 spurt.

Southside didn’t let the game get away that quickly. Danielle Ruffin went 2-for-2 on a triple to the free-throw line, and Symone Ruffin made from long range to make it a two-possession game, 16-10, after eight minutes.

The Lady Bulldogs’ post presence made it tough for the Lady Seahawks to keep chipping away. Princeton got four extra-chance buckets in the third quarter. Senior Madison Adkins nailed a trey to push her side’s lead to as many as 16 points.

Southside, again, brought itself back. Precious Gaynor scored four points, and Ruffin hit a 3 from the wing to drive a 9-2 run to end the third quarter.

That barrage of treys to open the fourth got Southside as close as three, but the Lady Seahawks couldn’t close the gap. The Lady Bulldogs immediately punched back with a pair of layups. They had an answer for everything the visitors got down the stretch.

Despite starting the season with 1-A Coastal Plains Conference competition, Southside did well to rally from its early trials. It finished 6-6 in the league and was one of three Beaufort County teams to earn a playoff berth.

“We had no room for error … and the girls made the state playoffs,” Ruffin said. “Hard work does play off. Stay focused and it paid off for them at the end.”