Jags win first Final 4 matchup, face Hoover for State Championship

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM – Heroics have become somewhat of the norm for the Spain Park girls’ basketball team. It started with an and-1 buzzer beater to tie a Sweet 16 game with Gadsden City back on Feb. 16, a game they went on to win to advance in the playoffs.

On Thursday, March 2, exactly two weeks later, the Jags were back to their mischievous ways yet again, this time in their first ever Final 4 matchup. The opponent on the other side was the 27-6 McGill Toolen Yellow Jackets who they took down in overtime by one point to continue the entertaining stretch of basketball.

“This team has put in so much work,” junior guard Claire Holt said. “After all of the hard work we’ve put into it, it’s just hard to give up at the end so we just never quit.”

After trailing for the majority of the game and by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, Spain Park finally made its move late in the game. Trailing 38-27, the Jags offense came to life and went on a 12-2 run to get within one at 40-39.

Shortly after with Spain park down 43-41 Holt got aggressive and drove to the basket drawing a foul. She drained both free throws to tie the game. The Jags were able to get the ball back for the last possession of regulation, but Holt’s floater in the lane rolled all the way and out leading to overtime.

McGill Toolen’s Shauntai Battle started the overtime period strong with a quick 4-0 run using her height and speed as an advantage. Spain Park answered right back with a 5-0 run behind a Holt layup and a deep 3-pointer from Mallory Duke over two Yellow Jacket defenders that gave the Jags a 48-47 lead.

“I ran a play for the three and my coaches were like ‘coach we’ve only made three threes the whole game,” Chase said of Duke’s huge 3-pointer. “I just responded with ‘I know’ and we went with the play, which ended up being a huge momentum boost for us.”

Battle came down and hit 1-2 free throws on McGill’s next possession tying the game at 48 with 39.7 left to play. This gave Spain Park the opportunity for the last shot of the game and they took advantage.

Holt waited until about eight ticks were left on the clock before making her move. She drove right down the lane and her aggressiveness led to another drawn foul with 4.1 seconds left. She stepped up and drained the first one with no problem to give Spain Park the 49-48 lead.

“In the second half I drove more and knew they were going to be looking to block my shots, so I was ready to go to the free throw line,” Holt said of the clutch free throw. “I had hit a couple in a row so I felt like I had found my stroke. As soon as I got the foul called on me I knew I was going to be able to put one in.

After missing the second one, the Yellow Jackets sprinted up the floor to try and get one last shot off, but the ball didn’t leave the shooters hand in time, which sent the Spain Park girls running to celebrate with their head coach and teammates on the bench as they punched their first ever ticket to an AHSAA State Championship game.

Holt led Spain Park with 20 points going 5-19 from the field and 10-14 from the free throw line. Barker added nine points, nine rebounds, six steals and three blocks.

Next up for the Jags will be a championship matchup with crosstown rival Hoover on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

“Crosstown rival. Every year on a set schedule we circle Hoover,” Holt said. “It’s a huge opportunity for us and we are so excited this is where we get to play them.”