HANCEVILLE — Screaming and skipping as they swarmed midcourt, 12 players hid no enthusiasm as they accepted a trophy some once considered a longshot.
For Tanner High’s girls basketball team, a Cinderella story has not reached the final chapter.
Tanner kept its fairy tale postseason alive, riding a fourth-quarter surge to advance past Cold Springs 46-39 Friday night in the Class 2A Northwest Regional final.
Tanner (15-16) advances to face Prattville Christian on Tuesday in the Class 2A state semifinals — the Rattlers’ first Final 48 appearance since winning the 2011 championship.
“Oh yeah, we’re very excited,” Tanner guard Samara French said with a wide smile as she walked out of a postgame press conference. “No one thought we would be here, but here we are.”
Tanner’s road to Birmingham had a few bumps. Or better yet, mountains.
Riddled by injuries early in the season, Tanner lost six of its first seven games, and the Rattlers’ record has been below .500 for the entire season.
But Tanner appears to be peaking at the right time. Since the postseason began, the Rattlers have won five straight games.
“Just another step,” Tanner coach Larry Greene said. “We’ve been called a Cinderella, and that’s because these players have had a tough season. But they’ve turned the corner because of dedication and hard work.”
To clinch its spot to Birmingham, Tanner followed the same blueprint that has worked the entire postseason: Find a favorable matchup and exploit.
This time, that responsibility fell on Jasmine Smith, and the 5-foot-10 post player delivered.
Smith cleaned up the boards and provided several clutch baskets late. She finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points with 15 rebounds.
“We didn’t feel like we matched up with (Cold Springs) because of height,” Greene said. “So before we came here, I challenged Jasmine to play one of her best games, and she responded. If we don’t get that, then we probably don’t win.”
In a game that had five lead changes, Cold Springs (22-8) dealt Tanner its first real adversity in the fourth quarter when Bailey West drained a 3-pointer and Haley Freeman made a layup to give the Eagles a six-point lead.
The wave of momentum didn’t rattle the Rattlers.
“We just regrouped,” Tanner guard Sydney Houston said. “That’s not the first time we’ve been in a tough situation, so we just adjusted and kept playing.”
French and Kelsey Houston sank a pair of 3-pointers, sparking a 9-0 run that gave Tanner the lead for good.
French finished with 11 points, while Sydney and Kelsey Houston added eight points each.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves,” Sydney Houston said. “We just stuck together and kept working hard, and now we’re headed to Birmingham (for the state tournament). It’s exciting. We’re all really excited.”
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