Redemption complete: Spain Park wins first ever State Championship

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

BIRMINGHAM – After last year’s Class 7A girls basketball state championship game that Spain Park lost 51-47 in overtime to Hoover, then junior guard Claire Holt and freshman Sarah Ashlee Barker promised they would be back and better during 2018.

One day short of a year later on March 3, 2018, the two guards made good on their promise as they left no doubt on the floor by capping off a redemption path with an emphatic 56-26 win over McGill-Toolen to win the 2018 Class 7A State Championship—the school’s first ever girls basketball state championship.

“When you come in a runner-up, you spend the entire next season looking at each day and saying ‘What can we do? What’s that inch that we need to push us to the state championship?’” said senior point guard Claire Holt after her final game. “Especially after losing in overtime by three points, it was just a bunch of small differences and we tried to add them all up.

“Your motivation as runner-up can be so much more powerful than having all of that success and winning all the time. We took it to heart last year and let it motivate us this year.”

The game

Spain Park’s work to get back to the game was all for nothing if they couldn’t pull through in the big moment and for a quarter of the game it looked as if the Jags were in for another tight battle that could go either way.

The Jaguars shot just 16 percent from the field and 12 percent from beyond the arc in the opening quarter of action and found themselves in a 7-7 tie.

“We didn’t start very well,” head coach Mike Chase said simply. “We got on them a little bit at the end of the first quarter and made sure to motivate them.”

Whether it was what Chase said during the changeover between the first and second quarter or the deep burning desire that Barker, Holt and the rest of their teammates felt, Spain Park came out in the second quarter and put all doubt to rest.

Spain Park eventually went on a 15-0 run thanks to 12 points from Holt and a 3-pointer from Barker as turnovers were leading to easy baskets and wide open shots were suddenly falling.

The Jags also got back-to-back blocks from Barrett Herring and solid defense from Ahrielle Parks, who was tasked with guarding the Yellow Jackets’ best player, Nya Valentine.

That spurt was all Spain Park needed.

From that point forward it was all Spain Park as they eventually went on a 33-4 run to take a commanding 40-13 lead. The Jags went on to outscore McGill-Toolen 49-19 over the final three quarters of the game to win by 30 points.

Parks limited Valentine to just seven points in the game and the defense was able to force 20 turnovers and picked up seven blocks four of which came from Herring.

“PG (Ahrielle Parks) did a great job on Velentine,” Chase said. “We knew she needed a little bit of space to get her 3-point shot off and she got one or two off early, but after a 30-second time out we gave them a little encouragement and got that fixed really quick.”

In the end, the Jags limited the Jackets to just 21.4-percent shooting from the field and 25-percent shooting from beyond the arc to lead to the win.

Spain Park also improved from its first-quarter shooting woes to shoot 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc.

It led to a dominating stretch and eventually to a special moment with 3:50 left to play.

All five starters, who had poured their heart and sweat into getting that extra inch walked off the floor to a standing ovation when Chase emptied his bench. They had finally gotten to the destination they had set sail for just 364 days earlier.

“It feels amazing,” Holt said. “I remember being a seventh grader and eighth grader and not accomplishing the goals we wanted and even missing out on the postseason a couple of years ago.

“All of those times, it seemed like I had AAU teammates playing in the Final Four every year and you see the rings on their fingers and it just seemed like we had the players to do it. When you have players bought in and a great coach like coach Chase, it feels fantastic to be able to accomplish this and create a legacy of how we do things at Spain Park now.”

Mike Chase’s first title

Chase went on to elaborate that same sentiment and talk about how special it was to pick up his first state championship as well, but instead of talk about himself, he talked about the team.

“I know everybody says this, but they really do have great chemistry,” Chase said. “Sarah Ashlee talked the other day about how everybody on this team is her best friend. When you have that mentality, you’ll have them doing anything for the girl next to them and it allows me to just coach basketball.”

In her last game playing for Chase, Herring was willing to elaborate on what the accomplishment of winning the title for her head coach meant.

“It means everything,” Herring said of winning the title for her head coach. “Not only did we want to win this for ourselves, but we wanted it for him because he has been such an amazing head coach for us. It’s hard to even put into words the impact he has.”

Stats

Holt went on to have an incredible game after that run where she had 12 of the 15 points. She finished the game with 20 points, five rebounds and four steals, while shooting 6-13 from the field.

For the fourth consecutive game, Barker finished one rebound shy of a double-double. The talented sophomore had 12 points, nine rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block.

Herring ended her final game with the Jags, not only with a state championship, but with eight rebounds, four blocks and four points.

Bailey Bowers, Parks, Katelyn Walsh, Mackenzie Culpepper, Avery Masdon and Camille Chase all ended up with at least two points in the state championship win for the Jaguars.

The 2018 season will be a memorable one for seniors like Herring, Holt and Christen Rushing, and has set the standard for the other players returning as well as the future of the program.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com