BIRMINGHAM – Terrie Nelson knows the impact of playing for a state title in girls basketball.

She’s seen through the eyes of her father, the late Larry Slater, what winning a title can mean. She’s seen through the eyes of her sister, Jeaniece Slater, what it feels like to lose the championship game.

It came on the same night in the spring of 1988.

Larry Slater was the head coach at Pell City High. Jeaniece Slater was the star player at Hartselle High. Their teams met in the Class 5A title game. Pell City escaped with a 77-76 victory. A crowd of more than 4,000 watched the game played at Calhoun College.

On a night when the Slater family got a win and a loss, girls basketball in Alabama got a big victory.

“It’s so emotional, it really is, when I think about my dad,” said Nelson, the girls basketball coach at Priceville High in North Alabama. “People kept coming up to me after the (Northeast Regional final win over Deshler), saying, ‘That’s the best game I’ve seen in forever.’ I kept thinking back to the best game I’ve ever seen was with my dad and sister in the state championship, just his influence and my sister’s influence on the game. There were 4,000 people there that night. For it now to be in this arena and I get to look back at that kind of crowd. What an amazing thing I’m getting to experience this with these girls.”

These girls are her Priceville High basketball team. On Tuesday, they took a huge step toward a state championship on their own. The Bulldogs’ magical run through postseason play will end in the Class 4A state championship game on Friday after they advanced with a 56-36 semifinal victory over UMS-Wright at Legacy Arena at the BJCC.

“What a ride,” said Nelson, whose sister Jeanice is one of her assistant coaches at Priceville. “I love this ride, I don’t want to get off it. It’s so amazing. I think about every player before this and, I’m telling you, they all helped build this. My point guard said the other day I literally try to emulate myself after (former star) Jenna Walker. These girls got the job done.”

Priceville’s program has been successful under Nelson. The Bulldogs played in the regionals in each of the past five years. None of those teams, however, made the trip south to Birmingham.

“Oh my gosh, I don’t know, I think it’s a dream sometimes,” Nelson said. “I woke up this morning and I was having my talk with Jesus. I was like, ‘We’re doing this.’ I think at the end, when we knew we had done it, it was just that moment of everything we had fought for and worked for since the summer time had all come together. Feeling that, at that moment, was awesome.”

The feeling wasn’t nearly as pleasant a few weeks back when the Bulldogs lost at Good Hope in the Class 4A Area 13 championship game. It was the third loss of the season to Good Hope and certainly the one that hit hardest.

“After losing the area championship, we lost by three to Good Hope, we had the runner-up trophy in our hand,” Nelson said. “That didn’t sit well with me. That didn’t set well with (the players) either, which is good.”

She looked at her team and laid out a plan that led them to this very point.

“They believed me,” Nelson said. “We went to work and I think that’s been their focus now – getting the job done.”

Picking out a catalyst means basically picking out a roster filled with talented and determined players. The team’s two seniors – Lauren Hames and Zoey Benson – combined for 12 points and eight rebounds – on Tuesday. Sophomore Leslie Hames had 15 points while junior Gracin Prater filled the stat sheet with 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, one blocked shots and seven steals. Abby Langlois, a 6-foot-1 freshman, came off the bench to contribute eight points, five rebounds and two steals.  

It also includes a community that latched onto this team. Priceville fans filled three sections behind the Bulldogs bench on Tuesday, and many more sat on the opposite side of the arena. They were loud. They made a difference.

“It’s so good for our town,” said Nelson, a teacher at Priceville Junior High. “It’s so good to see all the kids and the excitement that they have. It went from our elementary to our junior high to our high school. We did parades all through the schools. Kids with their signs, saying, ‘You’re my favorite team.’ Giving (the signs) to us. People want hope and it can come through things like this, a game where you inspire people. I hope with this platform it’s getting kids to dream big again. I hope it’s getting Priceville excited about, ‘OK, what’s coming next.’”

Nelson shared a moment she shared with a young fan during Tuesday’s game.

“One kid was sitting behind me, he’s so funny, he said, ‘I checked out of your class,’” Nelson stated. “I said, ‘I’m not there either.’”

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