Photo by Christine Troyke
HOSCHTON -- After watching Alpharetta's Kylee Smith take over the third quarter of the first-round Class AAAAA state tournament game against Mill Creek, Hawks star post Moneshia Simmons figured the fourth quarter was her turn.
Even after picking up her fourth foul early, the 6-foot senior scored eight of her 21 points and pulled down seven of her 13 rebounds in the final frame to give the Hawks a jump start, and spark them to a 63-48 victory Saturday night.
"I play my heart out. I don't think about the foul count," Simmons said after helping Mill Creek (25-4) advance to play host to Etowah in the second round Wednesday night. "It wasn't until the fourth quarter that we started to click. Once we clicked, we were OK."
It didn't look like the Hawks would be OK after Simmons went to the bench with her third foul with 5:36 left in third quarter.
That foul also marked the beginning of an incredible run for Smith, who scored 20 of her game-high 33 points in the period.
That accounted for all but two of her team's 22 points in the quarter as the Raiders (15-14) rallied from seven points down to take as much as a four-point lead, before settling for a 42-40 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
And things looked even worse for Mill Creek when Simmons reentered the game and quickly picked up her fourth foul with 7:39 still to play.
But Hawks coach Ashley Phillips made two key decisions. One was to switch to a box-and-one defense on Smith, which worked to perfection as the 5-10 freshman -- who also had 13 rebounds -- was held scoreless the rest of the way.
"I didn't want to (switch to the box-and-one) until the fourth quarter because I felt like we could survive even with Mo not in the game, and it would give (Alpharetta) less time to adjust," Phillips said. "I guess it worked."
Phillips' other decision was to leave Simmons in the game even after she'd picked up her fourth foul.
And it looked like he might regret that decision after Simmons aggressively went after a blocked shot when Smith drove to the basket.
"I wasn't thrilled with that decision," Phillips admitted. "But she's a senior, and she knows how to play with foul trouble. She managed to keep her body away from (Smith)."
That blocked shot also seemed to get Simmons back into the rhythm of the game as she scored eight points in an 11-0 run over the next 3:57 as the Hawks vaulted back into the lead for good and stretched it to 53-42 with 2:48 left.
From there, Simmons' teammates, who had held the team in the game in her absence, began to seal the deal. After Lauren Brown briefly brought Alpharetta to within single digits at 53-44 with her jumper with 2:37 left, Tamarr Williams answered with a 3-pointer and a layup in transition to push the lead back to double digits for good at 58-44.
Williams was one of four Mill Creek players besides Simmons to score eight points or more, with Jac' Weathers scoring 11, Sierra Menzies adding 10 points and four assists and Alicia Brookins chipping in nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
That depth turned out to be the difference as Brown was the only other Alpharetta player in double figures with 10 points.