HUGHESVILLE — The Tipton girls basketball team added a regular-season conference co-championship to the Kaysinger Conference tournament championship it won a week ago.
The Cardinals beat Northwest 63-23 Saturday to finish the regular season 8-1 in conference play. Tipton is co-champion with Windsor, who clinched its share of the title by beating Sacred Heart in triple overtime on Thursday.
“It means a lot, especially for us seniors,” said guard Caroline Combs. “Two years ago only winning five games, it just shows how much we can improve and how much we’ve pushed ourselves just to show the whole conference and ourselves that we aren’t to be passed over. We are to be reckoned with.”
In its second year under coach Jason Culpepper, the team adds its third title of the year with the conference tournament and regular season titles alongside the Tipton tournament championship won in December.
“To come in last year not having anything in the trophy case, we talked about it from the start that we really wanted to add that regular-season conference championship because it really means a lot to what you do all year long,” Culpepper said. “It’s not a matter of winning three games in a row, winning a tournament. You have to play well all year long. It takes a group effort to win all those games. It means a lot to our program to show the girls the effort they’ve put in the last two years is finally coming to where we want it to be.”
Tipton went 6-3 in conference play a year ago and 2-7 the year before. This season, the Cardinals’ only regular-season Kaysinger loss came Jan. 16 at Windsor, a six-point setback they later avenged in the Kaysinger tournament final.
“At the beginning of the season, that was our goal, we were going to win conference,” said sophomore guard Destiny Dowell. “We’ve got positive attitudes. We’re always ready to go in each game and just get things done, get conference and hopefully go on to state.”
Dowell finished with 19 points, including 11 in the third quarter.
“We just worked the ball around good and it gets open looks,” Dowell said.
Combs scored 18, including nine in the second quarter. Ashton Pace added 13 and freshman Allison Brant scored nine off the bench, hitting a 3-pointer near the end of the second quarter and scoring six in the fourth.
Jessi Zimmerman and Lakota Wiskur each scored eight for Northwest.
“We tell (Zimmerman), anytime she’s in the offense and she’s coming to the ball, make sure you’ve got yourself in a position that you like to shoot the ball in,” said Northwest coach Ryan Schlender. “When we set our picks and bringing her to the ball, the first thing we want in her head is catch, turn, look to shoot.”
Tipton’s press in the first quarter helped cause six Lady Mustang turnovers. Northwest turned the ball over 20 times in the game, and the Lady Mustangs’ offense shot seven of 37 from the field while Tipton shot 25 of 52.
“We knew we had to set good picks,” Schlender said. “We’ve struggled all year to set good picks. Tipton played good, in-your-face defense. They were great on our down picks and they were switching, but on our cross picks, it kind of worked to our advantage when they switched because it gave us opportunities on a corner jump shot, but we weren’t delivering.”
Schlender’s goal was for his team to attempt 60 shots in the game, and in the first half, the Lady Mustangs were on pace, attempting 26 shots, but the running clock in the fourth quarter and 11 second-half turnovers conspired to hold Northwest to 11 shots in the second half.
Tipton raced out to a 17-0 lead after one quarter, beginning with a 3-pointer from Combs on the first possession of the game.
“It just kind of happened,” she said. “It just happened to happen on the first play of the game. I would have been happy if it had happened on the seventh play of the game. It just fell into place.”
Combs’ 3-pointer was immediately followed by a Pace basket in the paint, and a pair of Dowell layups made it 9-0. Tipton closed the quarter with a Jessica Petree steal and basket.
“We were just trying to push it forward if we could, and if not we were trying to get down the floor and set up,” Combs said.
Zimmerman got Northwest on the board with a jumper early in the second quarter, and she added another jumper late in the second to make it 21-8, but Tipton responded by making the next four shots it attempted, a Combs 3-pointer, a pair of Combs layups in transition off missed Lady Mustang shots and the 3-pointer from Brant.
Tipton led 31-10 at halftime and 55-20 after three.
The Cardinals now head to Russellville to face Linn in the opening round of the Class 2, District 8 tournament.
“We’ve just got to work hard, focus on what needs to be done, win our games and play basketball,” Dowell said.
Northwest will host its district, facing Leeton on Monday.