Jags lose OT heartbreaker in championship game

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM – Not much trumps a rivalry matchup between Hoover and Spain Park, but place them in the 2017 AHSAA girls basketball State Championship in a game that went to overtime on Saturday, March, 4 and you have the recipe for one of the greatest sports stories the city of Hoover has seen.

Coming down to the wire, Spain Park trailed 44-41 with just a few seconds remaining in regulation. Sarah Ashlee Barker received the ball at the top of the key and let a shot go with about three seconds left on the clock that found the bottom of the net for a game-tying buzzer beater to force overtime.

Within the first two possessions of the overtime period, Jags’ junior star Claire Holt fouled out and on their first defensive possession, their only post threat, Barrett Herring, also picked up her fifth and final foul.

Without their leading offensive playmaker and low post defender/rebounder, the Jags struggled to stop Hoover, who ended the game on a 6-3 run to win the championship by a final of 51-47.

“Without going into too much detail, what I told these girls in the locker room is sometimes you play some really bad games and win and get yelled at, and other times you play some really good games, but get praised,” Chase said. “There’s nothing I can do but praise these girls for the way they played tonight.”

In their only other matchup of the year, played on Feb. 3, Hoover took down Spain Park 66-40 on the road, showing the fight Spain Park came with to the championship game.

The Jags’ impressive effort started early in this one as they jumped out to a 6-2 lead and shot lights out. Holt came out especially hot and after Bailey Bowers started things off with a 3-pointer, Holt went off for Spain Park’s next 12 points of the first quarter to give her team a 15-9 lead after one.

Hoover started the second with a little more effort going on a 5-0 run to get within one, but Spain Park ended the quarter on an 11-6 run to take back control and grab a 26-19 halftime lead.

“We told them to start playing our game,” Hoover head coach Krystle Johnson said of her halftime speech. “We had the same game plan we used when we played them at Spain Park and in the first half we didn’t execute that game plan at all.”

The Bucs shot 3-11 from 3-point range in the first half and 26.9 percent from the field, while Spain Park shot 4-9 from beyond the arc and 45 percent from the field with Claire Holt grabbing 14 of their 26 points.

“Claire Holt is a great player and in the first half she had 14 points,” Johnson said. “That’s way too many points when we are keying on her and saying ‘don’t let her get the ball.’”

Hoover listened to their head coach at the break and came out with a much higher effort on both ends of the court. On the defensive end they held Claire Holt to just four points in the quarter, which limited the entire Spain Park team to just four points in the quarter.

On offense they went to work in the post with Herring sitting in foul trouble. Angela Grant took advantage and had a big third quarter as the Bucs committed to feeding her the ball down low. After Holt hit 1-2 from the line at the end of the quarter, the Jags were still just within one point at 31-30.

In two of their last three games, the Sweet 16 and first round of the Final 4, Spain Park had been down by 11 going into the final quarter, so that one-point deficit seemed like a piece of cake.

“I told the girls going into the fourth quarter we were only down by one, which was about nine points better than we had been in our past few games that we won,” Chase said.

With Herring back in the game in the post making an immediate impact blocking shots and Holt back to her offensive self, the Jags battled and hung right along with Hoover. Neither team grabbed more than a four-point lead in the half, which came from the Bucs with less than a minute left.

Just like their previous late game heroics, Holt hit a jumper and Barker hit the three at the buzzer to give the Jags some optimism in what had to feel like déjà vu.

Unfortunately for Spain Park, the foul trouble ended up being too much for them to overcome as the overtime period just didn’t go their way.

“This was an amazing run for us,” Holt said. “Throughout the regular season not many people cared about girls’ basketball at our school, but this post season run has started to get people talking about us and gotten a lot of people to our games. We’ve been all over social media and gotten a lot of attention because of the run we’ve had down the stretch.”

Holt led Spain Park with 22 points on 6-13 shooting from the field. She also knocked down eight of her 13 free throws and grabbed four rebounds. Barker, who is already excited for next year, was the Jags’ only other double-digit scorer with 11 points. She also added a team-high nine rebounds and three assists in the game.

“Considering all five of our starting lineup will be back next year, we will have the experience and be better than we were this year,” Barker said.

Hoover was led by a double-double from Eboni Williams who posted 10 points and 11 rebounds. Angela grant just missed out on a double-double but led the Bucs with 13 points in the game.

Spain Park will have all five of their starting five back next year and only lose one senior in Monique Speigner, which like Barker said already has the team excited for next year.

“Repeating what was said earlier, we have a young team and a lot of players coming back. Next year is my senior year so it’s going to be a lot of fun and we are going to be even better.”