E.A. Sports Today

Untimely demise

Spring Garden girls fall in state championship game on a free throw with no time left

R.A. Hubbard’s Alexandria Orr (L) collides with Spring Garden’s A.J. Broome on the play that eventually sent Orr to the foul line with no time remaining on the clock. Notice in the upper right corner, the clock shows eight-tenths of a second remaining. (Photo by Greg Warren)

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – As the television cameras were rolling in front of Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin following Thursday’s Class 1A girls state championship game, he had a moment of pause.

Austin did his best to fight back a wave of emotion that almost certainly would have overcome anyone else in his shoes.

The Lady Panthers had just suffered as tough a loss as any team could have in its biggest game of the year at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. They fought their way back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game with 28.7 seconds left only to lose 44-43 when R.A. Hubbard eighth-grader Alexandria Orr hit the second of two free throws with no time remaining on the clock.

“Tough way to lose one,” Austin said. “I know you (media) all probably want to talk about the call at the end, but you stay in it long enough you’re probably going to be in that situation where you have to face that kind of stuff.

“We try to train our kids that you take care of the small details of the game and you’re limited on the number of times those things become a factor. That’s kind of what got us tonight. We had some opportunities that it should have never come down to that situation anyway.”

The third-ranked Lady Panthers tied the game on a 3-pointer by Tiyonna Rogers with 28.7 seconds remaining. On R.A. Hubbard’s ensuing possession, sophomore point guard A’Nautica Bibbs missed a jump shot that was rebounded by Rogers.

Following a timeout with just 5.3 seconds remaining, the Lady Panthers had a chance to win the game, but as sophomore guard AJ Broome was attempting to drive to the basket, the ball slipped off her foot. Broome and Orr battled for the loose ball as the horn sounded. And milliseconds before the horn sounded so did the official’s whistle.

Broome was called for a loose-ball foul, sending Orr to the line with no time left on the clock. She had missed three free throws down the stretch that could have salted away the win earlier and her first shot rattled off the rim before falling away on the left side. Her second shot had carried over the front of the goal and through after bouncing off the front of the iron.

“I knew it was win or lose,” said Orr, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists. “I was real nervous. I shot it and saw it bounce and closed my eyes and said, ‘Lord, please let it go in.’

“I turned around and everybody started running towards me. I looked at the scoreboard and the extra point was up there, so I made it. I was happy. I started to cry.”

R.A. Hubbard coach Candace Byrd said Orr has struggled from the free-throw line this season, but she had confidence in her to come through.

“When she stepped up to the line, I looked over at her and told her ‘Baby girl, you’re going to make these free throws,'” Byrd said. “I told her to finish and follow through like we normally do. I’ve told the girls even if they miss I still have confidence in you, whether you’ve been struggling or not. She has progressed throughout the season.”

Austin had as good a view of the game’s pivotal play as anyone. It happened in front of the Lady Panthers’ bench.

“Two girls going for a loose ball, I saw a collision, but that’s all I saw,” Austin said. “These players have not been in that type of close ball game to where it came down to such detail, but I’m still proud of how we handled it. We’re just two dribbles from maybe getting a shot off with a chance to win, and that (foul) doesn’t happen at the end. It didn’t happen.”

It was Spring Garden’s first loss to a Class 1A team in 31 games, and it prevented the Lady Panthers (26-8) from earning back-to-back state championships.

Early on, it didn’t appear that the game would come down to such a dramatic ending. Spring Garden built a 12-5 first-quarter lead before R.A. Hubbard closed the gap to 12-10 at the end of the quarter.

The Lady Chiefs got their 3-point shooting going in the second quarter, connecting on three treys at the outset to take a 21-14 lead with 5:42 left in the first half. It was 39-29 going into the fourth quarter, but the Lady Panthers didn’t panic.

“I really thought down 10 we had a great chance because of the way the first three quarters had been,” Austin said. “I knew we were going to make some plays and we did. It happened like I thought it could, but we just come up a little short.”

“We were thinking we were going to win the whole time,” Spring Garden sophomore Payton McGinnis said. “Starting the fourth quarter, I don’t know a person on this team that thought we were going to lose.”

McGinnis finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Rogers had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Senior guard Savannah Dempsey connected on a pair of treys and had six points. Broome finished with five points, five boards, two assists and two steals.

The Lady Chiefs didn’t score for the final 5:42 of the game until Orr’s free throw. In that time, Spring Garden went on a 10-0 run, capped off by Rogers’ 3-pointer with 28.7 seconds remaining.

Junior forward Charm Sausberry led the Lady Chiefs with 11 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two assists. Sophomore center Kee-Undria Bolden, the tournament Most Valuable Player, added 10 points and 10 boards. The Lady Panthers held 20-point-averaging Hubbard point guard A’Nautica Bibbs to five points, six assists and three boards.

“It’s a tough way to lose one,” Austin said. “That’s hard to stomach, but we’re going to learn something from it and we’ll be better because of it when the sun comes up tomorrow.”

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

R.A. Hubbard 44, Spring Garden 43
R.A. HUBBARD (22-8) –
Charm Sausberry 4-11 0-0 11, Alexandria Orr 3-8 1-6 9, Catera Troupe 2-7 0-0 4, A’Nautica Bibbs 2-9 1-1 5, Kee-Undria Bolden 5-13 0-2 10, Are’Taysia Jones 1-1 0-0 2, Destiny Lee 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 18-53 2-9 44.

SPRING GARDEN (26-8) – A.J. Broome 2-6 0-0 5, Kerstin Bryant 0-4 0-2 0, Savannah Dempsey 2-6 0-0 6, Payton McGinnis 5-11 2-4 12, Tiyonna Rogers 8-18 1-2 18, Katie Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Macy Reedy 1-2 0-0 2, Alexis Adkison 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-49 3-8 43.

R.A. Hubbard 10 19 10 5 — 44
Spring Garden 12 10 7 14 — 43

3-point goals: R.A. Hubbard 6-20 (Sausberry 3-8, Orr 2-3, Troupe 0-4, Bolden 0-1, Lee 1-4); Spring Garden 4-15 (Broome 1-2, Bryant 0-2, Dempsey 2-6, McGinnis 0-1, Rogers 1-2, Adkison 0-2). Rebounds: R.A. Hubbard 37 (Sausberry 10, Bolden 10); Spring Garden 35 (Rogers 14, McGinnis 10). Assists: R.A. Hubbard 14 (Bibbs 6); Spring Garden 9 (McGinnis 4). Total fouls: R.A. Hubbard 12, Spring Garden 13. Officials: Driver, Hughes, Evans.

The Spring Garden players show their pain after losing the Class 1A girls state championship game to a free throw with no time left on the clock. On the cover, the Lady Panthers can only await fate as Alexandria Orr shoots from the line. (Photos by Greg Warren)

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