Barker leads Spain Park to 2nd straight Elite 8

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

JACKSONVILLE – In the playoffs it takes a different kind of effort for a team to go on a run to win the state championship. In 2017, the Spain Park Jaguars showed that effort in a run to the state championship game and on Thursday, Feb. 15, they were back at it, specifically Sarah Ashlee Barker, as they advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.

On the floor of Jacksonville State’s Pete Matthews Coliseum, the Jags were able to string together a strong performance to take down the Grissom Tigers by a final score of 59-47.

Barker ended the game with a game-high 19 points and also added six steals, two blocks and two assists in her strong effort.

Early in the game, Spain Park found themselves in a battle, however. Grissom jumped out to an 11-4 lead thanks to a quick 7-0 run midway through the opening quarter.

The Jags found themselves shortly after that and were able to reel close the quarter out on an 11-0 run to take a 15-11 advantage—a lead they didn’t relinquish the rest of the way.

The reason for that strong end to the first quarter was the balance by which Spain Park was able to play with as four different players had at least three points in the period.

SPHS let that energy spark a strong second quarter as they continued that 11-0 into the period and eventually extended it to 17-0 through the first 2:50 of the quarter.

The Jags forced four turnovers in the first 2:30 of the quarter, which was a big reason for the run and ended the first half with six forced turnovers and eight points off turnovers, all of which were huge.

Already looking like the better team I every facet of the game, Spain Park instilled its will on the board as well. The Jaguars ended the first half out-rebounding Grissom 19-10.

More importantly, they were able to put up seven offensive rebounds, which led to five second-chance points in the quarter. Barker was particularly good on the boards in the first half with six rebounds herself.

Her strong hustle and Claire Holt’s 10 points in the half gave Spain Park a 33-23 lead at the half as the Jags shot 48.3-percent from the field, despite only shooting 2-8 from 3-point range.

Early in the second half, it looked like Spain Park’s dominance was going to continue as they started the third quarter on a 4-0 run to extend the lead to 14 points.

With their season on the line, Grissom battled back with a 12-5 run and eventually cut the Jags’ lead to just five points at 38-43.

Spain Park was still able to take a slim 40-34 lead into the fourth quarter, but Tigers’ effort on the boards had really improved and made a difference in the third quarter as they out-rebounded the Jags 14-6.

That trend carried over into the final quarter as Grissom kept the deficit at five trailing 47-42 with 4:41 left to play.

Spain Park flipped back into overdrive after that, however, and ended the game the way it started. Thanks to a couple of forced steals and back-to-back Barker offensive rebounds and put backs, the Jags ended the game on a 13-5 run to win by the final of 59-47.

The Jags ended the game out-rebounding Grissom 15-9 on the offensive glass and also forced 15 turnovers, while limiting themselves to just nine turnovers, all of which was key in pulling out the victory.

It became even more key because the game was closer than expected due to the Jaguars shooting just 4-18 from beyond the arc.

Barker’s 19 points, nine boards and six steals were all team highs, while Holt ended the game with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. A total of eight different players scored in the game for Spain Park, while six had at least four rebounds in a dominant effort in the paint.

Spain Park will now take on familiar area foe Huffman in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Jags have won all three games this season.