Linden Lady Patriots punch ticket to state semifinals

IMG_5793DOTHAN – Linden (17-6) is heading to the Class 1A semifinals after beating J.F. Shields 54-36 in Monday’s South Regional championship game.

“There’s no surprise to us because we’ve been doing a lot of hard work over the summer and we’ve learned something from every game,” Linden coach Teressa Bolden, whose team never trailed in the game, said of the Lady Patriots making the state semifinals. “Nobody really knows who Linden is, but I would say that now they do.”

The Lady Patriots built a 7-0 lead out of the gate and never slowed down, relying on the trio of Dajia Miller, Imiya Agee and Amber Richardson to carry them throughout the contest.

Linden's Amber Richardson (MVP), Dajia MIller and Imiya Agee along with Mar'quaja Brown and Shamya Johnson made the All-Tournament team for the girls Class 1A South Regional. Not pictured is Pleasant Home's River Baldwin,

Linden’s Amber Richardson (MVP), Dajia MIller and Imiya Agee along with Mar’quaja Brown and Shamya Johnson made the All-Tournament team for the girls Class 1A South Regional. Not pictured is Pleasant Home’s River Baldwin,

Shields attempted to fight itself out of the modest 7-0 and narrowed the gap to 13-10 on a Ti’Ajah McCreary shot with 7:18 to go in the second quarter. Mar’quaja Brown quickly followed with a drive to cut it to 13-12, forcing a Linden timeout with 6:54 to go in the half. Linden emerged from the stoppage with a renewed focus, getting a Richardson drive and an Agee three-pointer to up the lead to 18-12. Richardson then went on a personal 6-0 run to move the lead to 24-12 and force a Shields timeout with 3:37 to go in the half. Linden maintained the margin the rest of the frame, carrying a 30-18 lead into the locker room at half.

Tasked with neutralizing 6-3 sophomore center Shamya Johnson, Linden managed to draw four fouls from of the Lady Panthers’ best post presence in the first half alone, controlling the rebound advantage 21-11 during the game’s first 16 minutes.

“We just knew we had to block out and keep (Johnson) off the boards. She did a good job in the first half of getting a couple of putbacks, so we just made sure we paid even more attention to her,” Bolden said.

“I had to get down and get wide and box out, just go hard,” Richardson, who stands at only 5-5, said of being matched up with Johnson.

Linden continued to pour it on in the third quarter as Miller, Agee and Richardson accounted for 14 of the Lady Patriots’ 16 points in the frame. Linden held a 46-30 lead after three quarters and shifted to a clock-draining set for much of the final period of play.

Despite the offensive explosion, Linden again relied on its defense to set the tone, holding Shields to a paltry 32.1 percent shooting from the field and limiting Brown, round one’s 32-point scoring star, to only 14 points in the game.

“Our plan was to play Linden defense again. We had already planned to play the 2-3 defense and contain everything,” Bolden said. “We were going to make sure we knew where (Brown) was. We respect her. She’s a shooter. She’s a scorer. We know she can score.”

Linden turned that defense to offense most of the afternoon, relying heavily on the transition game to push J.F. Shields further and further out of the contest.

“That’s something that we’ve been pushing lately is to get the ball out, get two people on the run and get some quick, easy baskets. It worked for us,” Bolden said.

Richardson, who took the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honors, finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Agee had 16 points while Miller went 6-of-6 from the floor and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

“I felt it coming. I just played hard and it paid off,” Miller said of her shooting performance.

Agee and Miller were joined on the All-Tournament team by Brown and Johnson as well as Pleasant Home’s River Baldwin.

Linden, which has only one senior on the team, has relied heavily all season on returning stars Agee and Tomysha Boykin as well as the combination of Miller and Richardson, which transferred in after the closure of John Essex High School.

“It has made everything easier. We’ve become so close. They’re like my sisters,” Agee said of what Miller and Richardson have done for the team’s chemistry.

Linden moves on to face Decatur Heritage in Legacy Arena at BJCC Monday at 9 a.m.