Sparta runs past CCS for title

Cornerstone made its first trip to an AISA girls’ basketball state final Thursday, and it wasn’t pretty, as Sparta’s full-court press and speed was too much for the Lady Chargers, falling, 61-34.

“We knew coming in there that breaking the press was going to be key, if we could do it,” Cornerstone head coach Keith Youngblood said. “They’re awfully good. They gamble on defense, but they really, really, really press.”

Sparta opened the game with a 19-7 lead in the first quarter that grew to 44-15 at the half after three 3-pointers from Savannah Brown.

Cornerstone turned up its defense in the third quarter, as the Sparta Warriors throttled back midway through, scoring just nine points with their reserve players.

“We thought if we could just stop them from scoring, at least we could stop the bleeding, and then try to find some kind of an offense,” Youngblood said.

Holding a 53-21 lead after three quarters, Sparta coach Russ Brown put his starters back in the game. The Charger defense held the starters to just two points over the next three minutes. As CCS flirted with pulling the lead below 30 points, 55-27, Brown sent his starters back in to end the game. CCS head coach Keith Youngblood respectfully responded by allowing his bench time to play in a state championship game.

BreAnna Pate led Sparta with finished with 19 points, while tournament MVP Mallory Kendrick followed with 12 points and Brown had 11.

Chelsey Dunnaway battled through the second half to finish with 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead Cornerstone and earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team. She was joined on the team by senior point guard Brittney Calma.

CCS ended its season 22-6 after going on an 18-game win streak in 2009 after sitting 4-5 after a New Year’s tournament.

“It’s been a great season for our program,” Youngblood said. “It’s been great for our girls. They’ve really learned a lot.”

Cornerstone was a combined 1-28 when Calma was a freshman and sophomore. Last year, the Lady Chargers went 12-9 and made it to the state tournament for the first time. This season, CCS saw its girls advance to their first state title game, the junior varsity girls finish second in the state, the junior varsity boys win state and the varsity boys finish in the Final Four.

Other All-Tournament selections were: Tiffany Brown of Central-Christian, Rachel Bell of Wilcox Academy, Morgan Harden of Sparta and Erica Palmer of Sparta.