By Mike Talbert
ABERDEEN The record doesn’t tell the whole story of the Aberdeen Lady Bulldogs.
Coach Kandy Stringer says this has been a team with a lot of internal victories that don’t always show up on the scoreboard.
That has been changing lately. The Lady Bulldogs have jumped off to a 15-14 record going into the semifinals of the Division 2-4A tournament at Houston tonight against either Houston or Kosciusko.
They entered the tournament as the first place team with a 6-1 division record after beating Louisville 60-55 to wrap up the regular season.
Tiny senior point guard Sherell Riddle earned Daily Journal player of the week honors in that game with a 31-point performance.
“You have no idea how far these girls have come,” Stringer said.
Here is a measure: they have won more games this year than in the previous three seasons combined. They were 1-25 last year.
The key to this season was a game earlier this year when they beat the Houston Lady Hilltoppers 49-46. Stringer pinpoints the time that the season turned around for the Lady Bulldogs, when Aberdeen overcame a six-point deficit, in the final two minutes of the game.
Riddle hit a pair of 3-pointers and LaKisha Lloyd completed a 3-play to gain a lead.
“We had lost seven games by one or two points, and I kept telling them to stay with it,” Stringer said. “When we came from behind to win that one, we started playing with the confidence that we could win. They just stuck with it (through the close losses) and continued to believe they could do it,”
What followed was a stretch of 10 games in which they have won eight.
“To go from worst to first, even if it does end for us, we have been riding a cloud since the Houston game.” Stringer said. “But we have been taking care of business.”
As big as that Houston win was, just as big was the 60-55 season ending win over Louisville to clinch first place.
“That game proved that we can play. It was a great moral victory,” Stringer said. “When we beat Louisville earlier in the season at our tournament, people said it was a fluke. It proved that we can play.”
Stringer said the first step came last season when the players starter putting the pieces together, despite the record.
“Early in the year Starkville beat us 70-something to 2, but by the end of the year they had to fight to win by six,” she said.
That momentum carried into this season. Even the 7-12 start showed improvement.
Riddle, who averages 20 points per game, is the heart of the team.
Stringer, a former academic all-American on the Mississippi State golf team, said Riddle has the same offensive mindset she had as a high school player at Raleigh.
She says unlike herself as a player, Riddle is willing to work on defense. Stringer also says that as a coach she has come to learn the value of defense in winning games.
The defensive star of the team may be two-guard Shrita Johnson. “She has got to be the best defensive player I’ve coached. She anticipates and reads you, ” Stringer said.
Inside, the Lady Bulldogs have four-year starter Rehaunna Morrow (a 12-point scorer), Lloyd, a rebounding specialist, and Tamika Evans.
The sixth player and No. 1 cheerleader is Tosha Donald.
Stringer said, “She keeps us all up. I can be madder than a hen at them and and I can look at her and she will flash that grin. She is not the fastest player, but when I need somebody in there to make a quick decision, it’s Tosha.”
Regardless of how the Lady Bulldogs do in the playoffs, even if they lose tonight, Stringer said the strong finish says something for the future of the program:
“It’s an exclamation point. We’re ready to rock.”