COLUMBUS, Ga. — At times it wasn’t pretty, but Mike Brandt will take it.
Brandt’s USC Aiken Lady Pacers, the No. 9 team in Division II, trailed upset-minded Montevallo by a point with 13:48 to go and had to use a late-game run to pull away for a 63-55 victory in the quarterfinals of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament on Thursday.
“It was a tough battle and I expected it to be,” said Brandt, whose team plays UNC Pembroke (17-11) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday. “Montevallo did a great job of preparing for us. But it’s tournament time and the end result is what matters most.”
Montevallo (11-16), the No. 4 seed from the Western Division, wasn’t intimidated by the Lady Pacers’ standing as Eastern Division champions. The Lady Falcons used scrappy defense and timely baskets to stay within 26-23 at halftime.
Taylor Beverly led Montevallo with 11 points and five rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, while Kayla Harris paced USC Aiken with eight points and four rebounds.
USC Aiken (24-3) led 32-28 in the opening stages of the second half before the Lady Falcons went on a 5-0 run to take a 33-32 lead with just under 14 minutes remaining. However, the Lady Pacers showed their poise and went on a 6-0 run to open up a 38-33 advantage.
The Lady Pacers’ lead grew to as much as seven at 45-38 following a 3-pointer by Lindsay Sundberg with 8:55 to go, but Montevallo didn’t go away quietly. A 6-0 burst got the Falcons back to within 45-44, but USC Aiken scored seven in a row to re-establish a 52-44 lead with 4:31 left.
“We just have a lot of confidence and trust each other,” said Harris, who finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and two steals. “I never was nervous when the game was close. We just knew we had to lock it up on defense and we did.”
Montevallo went on a 7-2 run to get to within 54-51 on a layup by Tiffany McClure with 1:46 remaining, but USC Aiken made 9 of 12 free throws in the final 1:36.
“I thought we played hard the whole game,” said Montevallo coach Cindy Hilbrich. “Anytime you have to play a veteran team like USC Aiken is, it’s tough. But our team kept fighting and kept coming back. We fought hard all the way to the end.”