Spain Park headed to 3rd consecutive Elite Eight

Published 10:56 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

HANCEVILLE – For the third consecutive year, the Spain Park Jaguars girls basketball team is on to the Elite Eight and one game away from their third straight appearance in the Final Four, as the defending Class 7A State Champions got off to a dominant postseason start with a 60-38 victory against James Clemens in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, Feb. 14, at Wallace State Hanceville.

“It was a new venue for us with our first time playing at Wallace, and even though it was a regional, it’s a different regional for us, so it was good to get out here and get comfortable,” Chase said after the victory.

Having made three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances and two straight Class 7A state championship game appearances, the Jags weren’t out of their comfort zone in the big setting, and it showed in the opening quarter.

Sarah Ashlee Barker, one of the state’s best players, thrives for these kind of moments, and her attitude and effort was tough to match for anyone on the court in the early going.

She was sprinting around defensively with an extra spring in her step, and offensively, she drove to the basket for the Jags’ first three possessions.

“I think one of the most important things is how you start the game and how you come out of halftime,” Barker said after the game, both of which she and the team did well. “When we started the game, we told ourselves we were going to put some pressure on them.”

She ended up making two layups and draining two free throws out of three attempts, missing an and-1 attempt.

Following that, the game became a defensive stalemate for the next three minutes, but it became evident that a defensive battle wouldn’t bother the Jaguars.

James Clemens’ first point of the game came with 4:13 left, as the Jets made one free throw, before splitting another pair of shots from the line shortly after to make it a 6-2 game.

That, however, was followed by a spring to the end of the quarter from Spain Park.

The Jags’ defense didn’t just turn up the pressure, they completely changed the game starting with back-to-back steals from Bailey Bowers, one of which was a coast-to-coast layup, the latter of which was an assist ahead to Barker for a layup.

To that point, Barker had scored eight of the team’s first 10 points. The rest of the quarter, however, saw her teammates get involved.

Bowers was able to hit a 3-pointer after Avery Masdon knocked down two free throws, which gave Spain Park a 17-2 advantage at the end of the period.

“Defense travels,” Barker said. “If you play defense, your shots will start to go in.”

Spain Park’s strong opening quarter saw the Jags not give up a made field goal, while forcing four turnovers.

In between periods, the Jags drew up a play to start the second quarter with even more momentum, as Ahrielle Parks handed off a pass to Barker coming around the top of the key, whose threat of driving left Bowers wide open for another 3-pointer to quickly put Spain Park on top 20-2.

“We shoot so many threes, that’s just a huge part of our game, so getting used to a new arena isn’t that hard because once you kind of shoot a little bit, your stroke comes back,” Bowers said of feeling confident shooting the deep ball. “Just keep shooting, and you’ll figure it out.”

James Clemens eventually hit its first field goal of the game with 6:36 to play in the second quarter, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Despite the Jaguars turning the ball over late and sending the Jets to the free throw line on multiple occasions, including Barker picking up her third foul, they were still able to take an 18-point 31-13 lead into the half.

In the first half, Spain Park shot 11-21 from the field, 3-7 from beyond the arc and 6-7 from the free throw line, while James Clemens was 3-17 from the field and 1-9 from deep range. The only edge the Jets had was on the boards, outrebounding the Jags 15-9, including 6-1 on the offensive glass.

“Things evened up near the half because we put them on the line too much,” Chase said. “But we played them earlier in the year and knew if we could put up some points that they would have a tough time keeping up.”

And that’s what the Jags did in the third quarter.

Despite having three fouls, Barker came out just as aggressive in the third quarter as she did to start the game.

She hit a 3-pointer very quickly and then drove to the basket with two physical drives that resulted in and-1 chances, and although she missed both free throws, she had extended Spain Park’s lead to 23 at 38-15.

The barrage of attacks just kept coming as Bowers hit a layup followed by another 3-pointer from Barker to give her 10 points in the first four minutes of the quarter.

That quick offensive onslaught put the Jags on top 43-17, a lead that became insurmountable, as they eventually took a 50-25 advantage into the final quarter of play.

“We came out and had a really good third quarter and scored on multiple possessions in a row using two’s and three’s and the traditional and-1,” Chase said.

Spain Park was outscored 13-10 in the final quarter, but it gave Chase a chance to get his bench some valuable experience, while resting his starters ahead of an Elite Eight matchup on Tuesday, Feb. 19, against either Austin or Hewitt-Trussville.

Barker led the Jags with 27 points in her three quarters of action, while Bowers pitched in 12 in the same amount of time. As a team, Spain Park shot 22-45 (48.8 percent) from the field, 7-18 from beyond the arc and 9-13 from the free throw line, while limiting the Jets to 11-38 from the field and 3-19 from three.

“It’s all about having the right mentality,” Parks said of playing in the regional tournament ahead of another Elite Eight. “Preparation for the game is huge. Make sure your mind is prepared and make sure you’re ready for the game. You have to know what your role is and be able to execute the game plan we went over.”

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