E.A. Sports Today

‘It scared me’

Timeout helps Johnson gather herself to hit winning free throw as Cherokee County completes comeback to advance to Northeast Regional final.

Cherokee County’s Mary Hayes Johnson shoots the game-winning free throw against Handley during Monday’s Class 4A Northeast Regional semifinals. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Some coaches call timeouts to ice a free-throw shooter. Richard Barton called a timeout to thaw Mary Hayes Johnson.

She hit the second of two free throws with 7.2 seconds left,and Cherokee County withstood Takeriauna Mosley’s shot at the buzzer to win their Class 4A Northeast Regional semifinal Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.

Cherokee County (27-4), making its first regional appearance since 2019, advanced to Thursday’s 9 a.m. regional final against the Anniston-New Hope winner. The winner of Thursday’s game advances to the Final Four.

The Warriors seek their second regional title and first since 1998.

Johnson went to the line after dribbling down the clock, driving and drawing a foul from Mosley. Johnson missed the first free throw, and her coach called a timeout.

Johnson emerged from the timeout and made the second free throw.

“It scared me, after that first one, but he called that timeout and gave me kind of second to calm down,” said Johnson, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “Everyone, just the look on their faces, it was for the team right there.” 

That set up the final scenario, with Mosley dribbling to the middle, spinning back left and driving to the left side of the lane. Her shot banked and came off of the right side of the rim.

“I thought it was good,” said a tearful Mosley,who hit the second of two free throws with 35 seconds left to tie the game and led Handley with 18 points.

Players and coaches from Cherokee County’s bench charged the floor and met the five players coming off in celebration.

“I knew they had it in them, but they wanted it,” Barton said. “I looked one time, when we cut it to three or four, and I see Ellisan (Given) pretty much crying.

“It means a lot, knowing how much work they’ve put in and how much they care about each other. It means a lot to me.”

Handley led 40-29 going into the fourth quarter but switched to a man-to-man defense and brought pressure. Cherokee County found the open spots in Handley’s matchup zone and scored 20 fourth-quarter points, including two Johnson 3-pointers and two Aubrey Haygood threes.

The last of Haygood’s threes, from right in front of the Warriors bench, put Cherokee County up 48-47 with 43 seconds to play.

“We practiced against that, and they kept just leaving the corners open,” Barton said. “So, we just kept taking the shots. 

“The difference is, your shots fall versus your shots don’t. When they do, we’re pretty tough.”

Monday’s game marked the end of the line for five Handley seniors, including Mosley, Akia Brown, Takeira Tucker, Za’Nautika Smith and Millie Greer.

“Tough way to lose,” Handley coach Courtney Screws said. “Unfortunately, things don’t go your way. That’s life. The main thing I want to focus on right now are my seniors. …

“They’re going to be hard to replace.”

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