JACKSONVILLE — As the final seconds ticked away, Collinsville girls coach Jon Tidmore walked across the front of his team’s bench, high-fiving each player as he passed.
After finishing runner-up to Sand Rock in the Class 2A, Area 14 Tournament, Collinsville responded with a 54-40 win against the rival Wildcats in the 2A Northeast Regional final at Pete Mathews Coliseum on Tuesday night.
“It’s just a brutal road to get here,” Tidmore said. “You have to have a little bit of luck and some breaks go your way, and we finally got a break or two.”
The win advanced the Panthers (27-3) into the state semifinal round, where they will play G.W. Long at 3 p.m. Monday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
It was the fourth meeting of the season between Collinsville and Sand Rock, and the Panthers evened the series at 2-2 in the most important game of them all.
Collinsville held a 38-27 lead heading into the fourth and got the best of the Wildcats’ full-court defensive pressure. Brittany Rivera met a pass beyond half court that escaped a defensive trap and put it through the basket with a driving layup to extend the lead to 42-29.
Rivera finished with 13 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
“There was nothing to lose on the court, so we played our hearts out. We wanted it more,” Rivera said.
Caroline Brannon scored 12 of her team-high 15 points in the second half, providing Collinsville with another offensive weapon during a critical stretch of the game. She made 6 of 9 shots from the floor in 25 minutes.
“I feel like (opponents) might lay off of me because they don’t think I can do as much on offense as the other players, so tonight I thought I had more confidence and it went our way,” Brannon said.
Brannon scored in the paint with 4:50 remaining in regulation to push the Panthers’ lead to 46-31, before adding a 3-pointer off an inbounds pass that made it 49-33.
“We’ve been begging (Brannon) to have that kind of confidence, because we’ve seen what she can do in stretches,” Tidmore said.
Olivia Akins, who scored eight points, made a layup with 2:40 left to give Collinsville its largest lead at 18 points.
Rivera was named the 2A Northeast Regional MVP, with Brannon also joining the all-tournament team.
Caley Garrett scored a game-high 17 points for Sand Rock (24-10) and was its only player to score in double figures.
Collinsville shot 47 percent for the game to Sand Rock’s 32 percent and won the rebounding battle 38-23.
“I think we made up our minds to have as much intensity and mental focus as we could, because we felt like in the games we’d lost, we’d mentally zoned out,” Tidmore said. “We’d give up a big bucket or we’d foul; something would happen to help a team beat us.
“The focus all week has been that somebody’s going to have to beat us, we’re not going to beat ourselves.”