DECATUR — It didn't take Central A&M junior point guard Taryn Sams too long to sync up with freshman forward Channing Reed.
Sams and Reed teamed up in the fourth quarter and propelled the Raiders to a 58-49 victory over host St. Teresa in the Macon County Girls Tournament semifinal on Thursday night.
Central A&M (8-8) avenged a previous 59-47 loss to St. Teresa on Dec. 1 and will play for its seventh straight county title against Tri-County/Sangamon Valley 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“Winning this game was really important and getting St. Teresa back was a big deal,” Reed said. “I was very much in the zone.”
Reed posted a season-best 18 points, nine rebounds and six blocks and was often assisted by Sams.
They especially went on a tear in the fourth quarter where Reed scored 11 points.
“I always look for her because I know I can count on her and she's always open,” Sams said. “If she's not, she'll find a way to get open. She's doing really good.”
This was just Sams' second game of the season. She suffered a concussion before the season opener and debuted on Tuesday against Warrensburg-Latham.
“I knew I needed to step up and make up for time I lost, so that's what I've tried doing,” Sams said. “I've tried helping anyway possible giving people the ball and just doing what needed to be done.”
They demolished St. Teresa's man-to-man defense with the pick-and-roll.
After falling behind 42-38 by the end of the third quarter, Central A&M started the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run for a 48-42 advantage and never looked back.
Reed first spurred the Raiders at the free throw line and then morphed into an unstoppable force while Sams kept feeding her the ball down low.
Reed essentially clinched the win with a putback attempt to go up 53-45 with 1:36 remaining.
“She's hard to defend,” Central A&M coach Tom Dooley said. “She's only a freshman and she's done some really big things for us.”
St. Teresa's offense struggled throughout the fourth quarter until finally converting its only basket of the period in the final seconds. The Bulldogs shot 1 of 10 from the field and 5 of 7 from the free throw line in the decisive fourth quarter.
Makena Thornton led St. Teresa with 14 points while DaeLin Switzer weathered through foul trouble and finished with nine points.
“We knew Central A&M was going to be a fast-paced game and it was going to be a lot of back-and-forth,” Switzer said. “They outplayed us I guess.”
Tri-County/Sangamon Valley 55, Meridian 29
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Tri-County has a pretty interesting, yet deadly combo of its own: freshman point guard Ashlyn Sturdy and senior center Ashley Ford.
The two combined for 33 points — Sturdy with 10 and Ford with 23 — for the victory.
The Tornadoes are now 13-0 and chasing their first-ever Macon County crown.
“We've been playing really well,” second year coach Tony Nika said. “The kids are staying hungry. They just want to win. It's not about the individual, it's about the team.”
Nika said perhaps the best improvement has been ball handling, led by the small but very talented Sturdy.
“Sturdy coming in has been phenomenal,” Nika said. “Cutting down on turnovers can control the flow of the game. It's really come together for this group. They push each other in practice. They play well together. I'm not doing anything. It's all them.”
Central A&M, last year's Class 1A runner-up, has to be the best team around with a .500 record.
Injuries have been the Raiders' biggest roadblock.
With Sams back, they are only waiting on senior guard Olivia Jordan, who sprained her ankle on Dec. 13.
She came off the bench against St. Teresa and delivered four points, including a 3-pointer in the second quarter.
Dooley hopes Jordan will be better for the championship game.
“We're not healthy yet, but we're getting there,” Dooley said. “I'd like to see us when we're healthy and we can get up and run.”
Central A&M gunned out to an 18-8 lead in the first quarter, sparked by sophomore guard Brenah Durbin.
She went 3-for-3 from long range during the period and finished with 14 points.
The Raiders held on to a 28-22 lead at halftime.
“It's a championship. It's something you want to do. Our objective is to get perfect effort. If we get perfect effort, which is 100 percent effort, we're going to be right there in the end. We'll be fine with the results. So far, they've been coming up with wins.” -- Nika