E.A. Sports Today

Cooley keeps the faith

MVP scores 32 points, hitting seven 3-pointers, as Anniston’s girls beat Madison County for their third straight NE Regional title

The Anniston girls basketball team comes to center court arm-in-arm to claim their regional trophy. On the cover, Raven Cooley wears her reminder to keep believing. (Cover photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

The Anniston girls basketball team comes to center court arm-in-arm to claim their regional trophy. On the cover, Raven Cooley wears her reminder to keep believing. (Cover photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Raven Cooley always kept the faith. But if she needed any reminder, it was right there under her right eye.

On the eve of the Class 5A Northeast Regional final, Anniston girls basketball coach Eddie Bullock told his senior shooter she was going to have “the best game of your life.” He must’ve known something.

Cooley went out Tuesday and scored 32 points, hitting seven of 12 3-pointers and making five key free throws down the stretch, as the Lady Bulldogs beat Madison County 66-60 to earn their record-setting third straight trip to the Final Four. She was the regional MVP.

They will play the winner of the Booker T. Washington (Tuskegee)-Central Tuscaloosa Central Region title game Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the BJCC.

“We kind of made a little history in the school; this is the first time with the girls we’ve been three times consecutively,” coach Eddie Bullock said. “We’re just glad to be back over there and we plan on coming back with a trophy this time.”

Cooley never doubted her coach — about his projection for her or bringing back the state title — and just to hammer home his message she had a teammate write the word “Faith” in felt marker under her right eye.

You had to see it during the game because there was no evidence of it when she came into the post-game press conference.

At first one thought it was her answer for the AHSAA cracking down on the Lady Dawgs’ band-aid brotherhood last year, but it was all about keeping the faith. She was 9-of-17 from the floor overall, 5-for-5 in the second half, 4-for-4 from behind the arc.

“I knew I could make the shot regardless if I just take my time,” Cooley said. “In the beginning of the season I had a lot of doubt in myself and I knew my teammates needed me to do what I had to so basically I said Id lay it all for them.”

The Lady Bulldogs (20-6) are big on symbolism. They wear traffic-cone orange T-shirts bearing the slogan “Believe or be leaving” and have drawn crosses the top of each hand to symbolize fight and faith.

“We talk about believing,” Bullock said. “They’re unstoppable when you believe.”

Cooley waged a 3-point war with Madison County’s Taylor Jennings. The junior kept the Lady Tigers (22-6) in the game with seven 3s on nine attempts. She hit her first five shots of the game – four from beyond the arc – for 14 first-quarter points and finished with 23 points.

“It was fun to me,” Cooley said. “I just go out there with the mentality that nobody can shoot better than me. When she shot, I felt like I could make it, too.”

It’s all presumably part of the game plan. Bullock said the Lady Bulldogs have one for bringing home the trophy from Birmingham and brought out a folded piece of paper to prove it. Nobody in the Anniston camp would disclose what is written on the paper, but when Bullock unfolded it for the media, it had more than a dozen lines of information.

“That’s our secret weapon right there,” he said, pulling out the paper. “I’ll just give you the first part of it, and that’s belief. If you believe, you got half the battle won.”

Anniston 66, Madison County 60

MADISON COUNTY (22-6) – Madison Baggett 6-13 3-4 16, Kennedi Lomax 2-6 0-2 4, Taylor Jennings 8-10 0-2 23, Jasmine Baker 4-5 2-2 10, Tatyana Smith 1-10 1-4 3, Megan Baggett 1-2 0-0 2, Deleysia Huffman 1-1 0-0 2, Addison Richards 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan Haywood 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-48 6-14 60.

ANNISTON (20-6) – Miajah Bullock 3-10 4-6 10, Raven Cooley 9-17 7-11 32, Davia Palmer 0-5 7-8 7, Carsheuna Curry 2-4 1-2 5, J’Kyra Clemons 4-7 0-1 8, Carina Welch 0-0 0-0 0, Kendra Finley 1-1 0-0 2, Amoriya Dudley 0-0 0-0 0, Jemya Bullock 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-46 19-28 66.

Madison Co. 16 12 17 15 — 60
Anniston 15 16 16 19 — 66

3-point goals: Madison Co. 8-20 (Ma. Baggett 1-5, Jennings 7-9, Smith 0-5, Me. Baggett 0-1); Anniston 7-12 (Cooley 7-12). Rebounds: Madison Co. 20 (Ma. Baggett 5); Anniston 39 (Curry 9, Clemons 8). Technical fouls: Cooley. Fouled out: Ma. Baggett, Baker. Total fouls: Madison Co. 23, Anniston 13. Officials: Faye Wilson, Ben Walker, Mark Freeman.

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