Charleston coach Jason Rucker knew going into today’s regional tournament first round game at Bergman that his Lady Tigers had their work cut out for them. In last year’s regional held at Waldron High School, the script was reversed from today’s. The Lady Tigers were the top seed in the regional last year and played the fourth-seeded Bergman Lady Panthers in the first round. The top seed usually has the benefit of playing a little easier first round game, but last year, Charleston had to beat a very talented Bergman team in the first round to guarantee that the Lady Tigers advanced to the state tournament.
Fast forward to today’s regional, and it was the four seed Lady Tigers playing the top-seeded Lady Panthers on their home floor, and almost three hours away from Tiger Center. The Lady Panthers are loaded, having returned almost the entire lineup from last year’s regional team.
The Bergman Lady Panthers entered today’s game 32-1 on the season with their only loss of the season at Greers Ferry Westside. Interestingly enough, the Lady Panthers had injured players and were not a full strength that day at Greers Ferry. Bergman is led by senior Maddi Holt who averages 17.8 points per game.
Charleston, having graduated many of the players from last year who won a state title a few years ago and were state semifinalists last year, played much of this season with just seven players dressed on game days. But the Lady Tigers stuck together, played hard all season, and fought their way to a regional tournament seeding. A true compliment to a team that was fairly young and extremely thin in numbers. Charleston, although they are stinging from today’s defeat, can be very proud of how hard they played and competed this year. The Lady Tigers will most of their team back next year and will add numbers to their roster. Charleston will again be in the conversation next year for a state tournament berth.
Bergman was quick out of the starting gate in the first quarter, hitting shots from every spot on the floor. This was a sign of things to come, but Charleston hung tough with good shooting and hard, second-effort baskets that kept the Lady Tigers within striking range. Bergman pressed Charleston full court throughout the entire game, and early on, the Lady Panthers were trading hot-shooting three point baskets for two-point Charleston buckets. At the end of the first quarter, Bergman led Charleston by a score of 27-16.
In the second quarter, Bergman increased their full-court pressure even more on Charleston and forced easy transition baskets for the Lady Panthers. Bergman was making the Lady Tigers work hard on every Charleston possession, and the Lady Tigers were getting just one shot on offense for most possessions. The “bigs” for Bergman were dominating the lane and the Bergman guards were scoring seemingly at will on the perimeter. Charleston continued to play hard, but by the end of the first half, Bergman had built a 19-point lead. The score at halftime was Bergman 48, Charleston 29. Bergman was on pace to possibly score 100 points for the game.
The Lady Panthers blew the game open in the third quarter, not giving up a Charleston score and scoring 17 points on offense. Bergman could seemingly score at will from anywhere on the court. The Lady Panthers were looking like a team that could compete for the state championship. By the end of the third quarter, the score was Bergman 65, Charleston 29.
In a clock-shortened fourth quarter, the game quickly came to an end. Charleston continued to show their character by refusing to quit, playing hard down to the final second. The game ended, and Bergman defeated Charleston, 69-34. The Lady Panthers advance to the second round that will be played Friday at 10 a.m.
After the game, Bergman coach James Halitzka, said of his team, “Hard working group all the way around. About 8-10 deep and can score in just about any position. So, it helps. They (Bergman) played together all last summer as a travel team in other states, and it is close bond between them. They go to trainings in the morning together, and then they just stick together for the rest of the time. It shows, and it helps.”
I asked the coach how he thought they stacked up against the talented and athletic teams in the state tournament that will come from the eastern and southern part of the state. His reply was “It is a very deep 3A division this year. There are probably about ten teams with a good solid shot at it (state title). We stack up well. Some of those teams have size, some have good guard play. Fortunately, we have multiple “bigs”, a lot of depth in the guard position, so we match-up well and we can match-up as needed. Mountain View will be there (final four). Mayflower, coming off of last year’s final four team. CAC, Hoxie, Atkins, Dover, will all be up there in contention, too. It is a lot of senior-heavy teams, and we will be one of the younger teams among those contenders. We have one senior on the roster, but we will be a little more experienced than last year.”
The Lady Panthers will be a strong contender for this year’s Class 3A state title, and the Lady Tigers coach, Jason Rucker, thinks that the Lady Panthers are a state semifinalist, “at minimum.” Coach Rucker said after the loss, “We knew going in that we had our work cut out for us. Bergman has a great team. I thought our kids played hard, but, they (Bergman) just has too many weapons. They’re legit. I think they will at least be in the final four. We played, we just turned it over too much, but they are a great team. They have a good chance to win a state championship. They are a year older and a year better than last year. They play the game the right way.”
The Charleston Tigers boys team will take the court on Thursday at 1 p.m. for a first round game with Elkins. The winner will be guaranteed a berth in the state tournament. Resident Press will again be there to bring our readers all of the action from Bergman.
Additional photo of today’s game are now available on Facebook at Charleston Tigers Sports. Fans from both schools can view and / or copy photos from the girls first round game.
Congratulations to Coach Rucker and the Charleston Lady Tigers on a great season. The Lady Tigers and their fan base who made the long trip to Bergman can look forward to an even better year next year as Charleston will return several starters who now have regional tournament experience.
And Resident Press will be there to bring you the action! Thanks for reading Resident Press, and I will see you tomorrow in Bergman!