E.A. Sports Today

Conflicting emotions

Amid furious comeback, then heartbreaking setback in Northeast Regional final, Southside girls measure a two-year run of progress.

Southside’s Grace Anne Rose (20) and Jovi Marble console SaraKate Yancey after the Panthers’ 42-39 loss to Scottsboro during Wednesday’s Class 5A Northeast Regional final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Progress hardly feels like progress when a season ends short of the goal last season promised.

A roaring comeback hardly feels like a comeback when, after the clock hits zeroes, mutual consoling hits high gear.

Southside’s girls lived on all sides of it before, during and after their 42-39 loss to Scottsboro in Wednesday’s Class 5A Northeast Regional final in Pete Mathews Coliseum.

When it came time to sum a 25-7 season that ended in a repeat of last season’s program history, it was hard to know which of six seniors should speak, let alone what to say.

Laylah Davis, whose lone 3-pointer tied the game 38-38 with 1:48 to play after the Panthers trailed 31-20 going into the fourth quarter, leaned into the mic near her.

She transferred to Southside ahead of last season’s historic run to the regional final. She became part of the program as second-year coach Justin Bowen began its revival.

“When I moved here to Southside, the record was a little, eh,” she said. “I was a little scared. I was a little scared coming in here, but I came here with Coach Bowen, and he really turned things around.

“I think last year was the momentum that we needed to propel us this year. We obviously wanted to go way further than we did, but having that experience from last year and accomplishing those things, then being able to do it together again, as a team, propelled us for this year.” 

Grace Anne Rose, whose free throw put Southside up 39-38 at 1:02, summoned strength through the fresh blow to her Final Four dreams. Then again, Southside’s powerful center summons considerable strength through every bump to get her shots up to the basket.

Those bumps hardly compare to the audible thumps she absorbs from Southside assistant coach Kyle Kilgore’s hand-held pad, as he whacks her during her warmup shots, so what’s a bump to the soul? She found words to describe accomplishment amid disappointment.

“We had been playing together since middle school,” she said. “Just being able to do this turnaround was huge for us.

“To do it again this year, we really wanted more, but we just couldn’t execute today. That’s on us, but I just love all my coaches and my teammates, so I’m really proud of this.”

What did the Panthers earn with success?

They earned a full “whiteout” student section for their semifinal victory over Moody and a full “crimson out” section for their loss to Scottsboro.

They earned a “Panther Walk” when they got off the bus at Pete Mathews Coliseum on Wednesday.

“I don’t know if any other team has had that or not,” Bowen said. “It was amazing to see several hundred people lined up outside the bus for us.

“That’s really neat, especially for girls’ basketball, because not a lot of times do they get the recognition they deserve.”

Respect came the Panthers’ way, even begrudging respect from Scottboro’s student section. As Davis repeatedly called “wing” for another pass and hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer in warmups, one Scottsboro student called her “Caitlin Clark.”

“Oh God, don’t let her shoot,” he yelled out in the first quarter.

Even Clark fell short of her dream last season, when Iowa lost to LSU in the women’s NCAA championship game, but not without her many signature logo-shot flourishes.

Southside went out with a flourish of its own. The Panthers had to press and trap to in the fourth quarter. At that point, they had no choice but to risk giving up a spot-up three to one of Scottsboro’s many shooters.

Southside shook loose turnovers and rallied to take the lead.

Southside’s Grace Anne Rose hits the second of two free throws to give the Panthers a 39-38 lead in the fourth quarter of their Class 5A Northeast Regional final against Scottsboro on Wednesday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Then Bree Sexton hit two free throws to reclaim a 40-39 lead for Scottsboro with 54 seconds left.

After left-calf cramps forced point guard Jovi Marble out of action, the Panthers committed a turnover with 27 seconds left. 

After a foul by SaraKate Yancey to stop the clock, Tatum Shelton hit two free throws to make it 42-39 at 0:07.

Southside never got off a shot in its final possession, with Rose losing control of the ball amid a crowd as she flashed through the lane, looking to catch and kick out to a shooter.

The buzzer sounded, and senior Madison Shaw squatted down in disbelief. Rose and Marble huddled around Yancey while consoling her.

It was a tough moment to think about what’s been accomplished in two years, but then it’s hard to feel disappointment without creating expectation.

“It’s been awesome to see them kind of rally the school,” Bowen said. “I think one of the biggest things on campus right now is Southside girls’ basketball, and that’s because these girls and the hard work they put in.”

Southside’s bench reacts during the Panthers’ comeback against Scottsboro in Wednesday’s Class 5A Northeast Regional final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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