One and done Lions suffer season’s only loss in championship final

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Kingwood Christian School’s 27-game winning streak came to an end last Saturday as the Lions fell to Fort Dale in the AISA, class 3A girls state championship game at Huntingdon College.

After cruising through the regular season without a loss, the Lions found themselves fighting from behind to secure the win several times in postseason play.

But the comeback magic fell short in Saturday’s title game as Kingwood was handed its only defeat of the year in a battle that saw several lead changes and a thrilling overtime finish.

With the score tied at 47, Fort Dale ran the clock to secure the final shot of regulation. The Eagles drew the foul on a lane-driving shot with four seconds left but missed both free throws to force the game into overtime.

The Lions watched as their state championship hopes were dashed by Fort Dale’s solid shooting in the extra period.

&uot;Give Fort Dale the credit,&uot; said Kingwood coach Jerry Stearns. &uot;They went to the free-throw line and hit their 3s at the end.&uot;

Stearns said the loss was &uot;tough to swallow.&uot;

&uot;But it can in no way overshadow the great season we had,&uot; he said.

The Lions shot the ball well, going 15-for-22 from the free throw line and shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Fort Dale’s late surge.

Five-foot-two freshman, Hannah Phillips led Kingwood with 24 points while Kayla Cates had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lions.

Stearns had planned to get the ball into Phillips’ hands and switch to the spread offense if the Lions secured a late lead and was ready to do so with a six-point advantage in the fourth period. However, Fort Dale scored and then cut the deficit to 2 points in a matter of seconds after stealing the Lions’ inbound pass.

&uot;That took us out of our gameplan,&uot; Stearns said. &uot;It was just too risky for us to try (the spread offense) with that small of a lead.&uot;

Kingwood never seemed to recover and struggled to put the game away late.

At one point in the fourth, the Lions held a four-point advantage and failed to score in five straight trips down the floor.

After the game, Stearns gave his team a message he said he tries to stress with all the athletes that he coaches.

&uot;One thing I told them in the locker room was that it is not the things that happen to you in life but how you handle those things that show your true character.&uot;

The Lions, whose 27 straight wins set a new school record, also carried a team GPA of 3.54 this season.

Stearns, a former coach at Woodlawn High School, said this year’s Kingwood team earned a special place among the teams he has led during his 16 years of coaching girls basketball.

&uot;Overall I think this is the best team I’ve ever coached in girls basketball,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re a great group of girls.&uot;