Spain Park wins 2nd straight area championship

Published 9:45 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

By SETH HAGAN | For the Reporter

HOOVER – The Spain Park Jaguars have made the state basketball regionals for the third year in a row, and they will do it again as the undefeated Area 6 champions, as the Jags defended their area tournament championship on Friday, Feb. 8, by taking down Hewitt-Trussville 55-48 for the third time this season.

“I thought we ran some good stuff early and had a pretty good control of the game offensively and defensively,” said Jaguars’ head coach Mike Chase. “But we didn’t have a good start to the third quarter, had foul trouble almost the whole game and we had to play some lineups we were uncomfortable with. We didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line and we’re going to have to shoot better going forward especially when teams double team us and leave shooters out on the perimeter.”

Indeed, Spain Park (26-6) had trouble shooting from distance much of the game, but found their rhythm early in the transition game and at the free throw line.

Sarah Ashlee Barker scored the Jags’ first six points and dominated the first half of play, while the rest of her teammates made five of their six free throws in the first quarter to build an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Barker continued her strong performance pouring in nine more points in the second quarter to finish with 18 in the first half alone.

Spain Park’s defense forced five turnovers in the second quarter, and despite letting the Huskies get to the line eight times, the Jags only allowed a single basket the entire period.

The Jaguars led 31-18 at halftime, but Hewitt-Trussville wasn’t going to go away quietly.

The Huskies hit the ground running in the third quarter and heated up considerably from long distance after a forgettable first half. They hit five treys, including two each from Morgan Kirk and Amiya Payne and proceeded to outscore the Jaguars 19-9 the rest of the way.

Spain Park’s offense hit a rare dead spell in the third quarter, but Avery Masdon was the saving grace, as the Huskies made their charge.

After going scoreless in the first half, Masdon sank three 3-pointers for all nine of the Jags’ points in the period, but the lead had shrunk to a 40-37 margin heading into the fourth.

“She’s really struggled all year with the three and she just found her rhythm two days ago,” Chase said. “So it’s amazing what confidence will do for a kid that’s shooting the basketball. She’s played her best two games of the year this week and it’s good to have her when some of the girls aren’t doing what they normally do.”

In the final quarter, the team finally started to regain its confidence as Barker scored the first basket of the period—the Jaguars’ first points aside from Masdon since the second quarter.

That ended up being Barker’s final basket of the game as she finished with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds.

All-Area selection Bailey Bowers had a quiet tournament for the most part, but was clutch in her final home game with Spain Park, as she finally broke through and penetrated the Huskies’ defense twice for big baskets.

The second one was particularly impressive, as Bowers used a spin move to lose her defender at the 3-point line, then drove to the basket leaping past a second defender sinking a layup while being fouled. She then sank free throw to complete the 3-point play and extend Spain Park’s lead to 51-44.

Ahrielle Parks had scored only four points going into the fourth quarter, but came up the biggest in the clutch moments of the game. Parks also found holes in the middle of defense driving for one, then stole a pass out on the perimeter and raced to the basket for another layup.

Still, the Huskies persisted and closed the lead to three again with just under a minute to go. With Spain Park playing keep away, Hewitt quickly put Parks on the line for a one-and-one opportunity.

Parks calmly sank both shots and was sent to the stripe again after the Jags’ forced a turnover on the next possession. With a chance to put the game out of reach Parks did double duty sending both shots through the net and reminding Chase about a similar situation during last year’s playoff run.

“We were playing Robert E. Lee in the state tournament last year, he said. “It was a tight game in the fourth quarter and she got fouled on two straight one-and-one’s and it was a two-point game. She walked down and hit four straight free throws to take it to six so she’s done it one a big stage and we feel pretty good about her going to the line in those situations.”

Parks finished with 12 points and crested 1,000 career points in her final home game with those free throws in the closing seconds to help close out the 55-48 victory.

She joined Barker as two of only five girls basketball players to hit the mark in Spain Park’s history.

Spain Park will now begin its defense of last year’s state championship, when the Jaguars travel to Hanceville on Thursday, Feb. 14, to take on James Clemens. Win that and they’ll move on to the Elite Eight where they would take on either Hewitt-Trussville again or Austin looking to earn a trip to their third straight Final Four.

Of note, in the DOC tournament earlier this season, Spain Park beat James Clemens 53-47 and lost to Austin 42-31.