Something about Conway sets off the fire inside Alexis Tomlin.
But for all the huge games the Carolina Forest senior has churned out against the Panthers’ top rival, none were bigger than Friday’s. Tomlin loudly led her teammates to a 56-54 win over the Tigers at home with another huge performance. The victory secured Carolina Forest’s first region title since 2008-2009 as well as a No. 1 playoff seed that carries with it home-court advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs.
This was the feeling Tomlin wished she could have had a 361 days ago.
“Last year, it broke. It was a hurt,” Tomlin said, referring to the Tigers’ two-point victory, one that gave Conway that region championship on this very same floor. “We had worked all season for that game and we came a couple points short. That’s a burn inside. We wanted to come back and work hard in practice and have a completely different kind of game this year.”
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Much to nobody’s surprise, Tomlin played a major role in that.
She finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. It continued what had been a streak of monster games for the 6-foot-1 Tomlin against the Tigers.
In the prior six games against Conway (she missed one due to injury), Tomlin averaged 22 points and 15 rebounds. She never scored fewer than 19 points, and never grabbed fewer than 11 boards in the series.
Make that seven games.
And seven double-doubles.
Yes, she is averaging a double digits in points and rebounds this season. She was a Class 5A All-State selection last year and will likely be again this season. So it’s not like she’s only playing well against the Tigers.
Still, Friday’s win was the punctuation mark to a season that has been trending in this direction for weeks, in large part due to Tomlin’s consistency. Carolina Forest, ranked No. 6 by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association, has not lost a game since Dec. 30 while winning nine straight.
Yet, for all of those gaudy numbers from Tomlin, it was her steal off an in-bounds pass with 5 seconds to go that all but sealed the win, and it was her pass to a wide-open and cutting Cheyenne Pyles-Moultrie on a designed play with 28 seconds that maybe ultimately kept the region run going.
“That was the money play,” head coach Stacy Hughes said. “We wanted to set it up because we’ve been struggling a little bit holding the ball at the end. So we went to our back-door play and we figured if it didn’t work, at least it’s in Alexis’ hands. She’s leading our team in free-throw percentage, well, a lot of categories. … I can’t say enough about her effort.”
In the middle of saying that, Hughes found her standout big hugging her from behind. The emotion of the win still had Tomlin “on cloud nine,” and because of how well the Panthers (17-4 overall, 9-0 in Region VI-5A) have done to this point, their Tuesday game against Sumter is for little more than bragging rights toward a possible undefeated region record. Regardless what happens there, Hughes and her team know they’ll open the playoffs at home on Feb. 13.
Conway (11-8, 5-3), meanwhile, has also clinched a playoff spot, although the Tigers will need to win a pair of games and/or get some serious help from current second-place Sumter next week to earn a home game. That’s the position they find themselves in after yet another dominant showing from a player who has put up big numbers against them for four years.
“I have three really good friends on that team,” Tomlin said. “It’s always really fun when you play against people know. It’s really good competition. I know they’re skill level is really high. Their high caliber play brings out the best in me.”