Seniors leave Spain Park in good shape after 3rd consecutive Elite Eight appearance

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HANCEVILLE – When Ahrielle Parks and Bailey Bowers first stepped on the basketball court sporting Spain Park uniforms four years ago, the program was in a different spot than it is now.

And despite a loss in the Elite Eight to Hewitt-Trussville 72-56 on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to bring the season to an end for those two seniors, the program is in much better shape largely because of their contributions.

“When these guys were freshmen, we had some issues on our basketball team,” head coach Mike Chase said after the loss. “It was a really bad time for all of us. Bailey even said ‘After my freshman year, I wanted to quit.’ These guys were instrumental in changing the culture of being nice, being good leaders and being good leaders.

“Instead of being the usual freshmen coming up, they were more like ‘What can I do to help you?’ Once they did that, the game of basketball became easy. You appreciate their basketball, but I appreciate them for the things they’ve left for the younger players, because now we’ve reversed that chain.”

In their final games wearing the Spain Park blue, white and black, Bowers totaled 14 points thanks to a 5-13 mark from the field and 3-6 mark from beyond the arc, while adding five rebounds. Parks went on to post five points, two rebounds and two assists.

And while the season came to an end, that’s not what the two will miss moving forward, it’s the memories.

“We’ve just been lucky,” Bowers said with tears filling her eyes. “I think we take for granted being here, having all these fans come out. It’s just been a blessing. Not everybody gets to do this. To be at Spain Park and to play for coach Chase, it’s really just been awesome. I wouldn’t trade it to go anywhere else, even if you told me how it ended.”

“These four years have been awesome,” Parks said. “I’ve made so many different relationships with my teammates. I’ve gotten closer with each and every one of them. My role has changed in the four years I’ve been here. I love seeing how each and every one of us is able to fill our role each year. It’s sucks we weren’t able to win it this year, but I do appreciate the memories and times we have had competing for a state championship.”

The two seniors not only had an impact on the team and their head coach, but one of the biggest high school girls basketball stars in the state in teammate Sarah Ashlee Barker, who almost feels like a senior with those two.

“It sucks to lose, but the worst part is that I’ll never get to play on the court again with these two, that’s what sucks the most.” Barker said, also fighting through tears. “Ever since I was a freshman, they accepted me for the type of player I was. We all three came together as leaders of the team that people could look up to.”

Those three were part of a group that advanced to the state championship the last two years, winning a season ago, before coming up short in remarkably their third consecutive Elite Eight appearance.

Despite having beaten the Huskies four times throughout the season to this point, the game itself against Hewitt-Trussville was an uphill battle for the Jags from the second quarter on, as the Huskies instilled their will in the paint and never wavered from that game-plan.

Early on, the game was a back-and-forth contest with Barker scoring nine of her team’s first 11 points to give the Jaguars an 11-10 lead midway through the opening quarter.

After Bowers hit a 3-pointer a few possessions later, Spain Park was able to take a 15-14 lead late in the period, but that became the last lead the Jags saw the rest of the game.

A 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Huskies gave them a 19-15 edge heading to the second quarter.

That’s when they really started to go to work in the paint.

The taller and more physical team of the two, Hewitt-Trussville went to work and was eventually able to extend its strong end to the first quarter to 19-2 run, which gave the Huskies a 33-17 advantage midway through the second period.

After falling behind 35-20, Barker got a look in her eyes that said “I’m not going down with no effort.”

She ended up scoring eight points in a row for Spain park, including a 6-0 run by herself after the defense took three charges in a row, which led to the Jags gaining some momentum at the half after cutting the Huskies’ lead to 39-28 at the break.

“We got behind the eight ball early, and it’s just one of those things where we were playing catch up pretty much all game,” Chase said.

That eventually took its toll on the Jags in the second half.

Hewitt came back out, and despite four turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter, extend the lead back to 16 points at 46-30.

The Jags, however, did once again battle back to cut the deficit to 11 points again after a Camille Chase 3-pointer and two Barker free throws.

It didn’t take long for Hewitt to go back to work in the paint and extend that lead back to 15 points at 50-35 shortly after.

But thanks to two 3-pointers in the final two minutes from Bowers, Spain Park had cut the Hewitt lead to 10 points or less for the first time since it was 26-17 early in the second quarter.

The Huskies added two free throws after a foul at the buzzer to take a 55-43 advantage into the final frame.

In the final quarter, the Jaguars had their chances and eventually trimmed the deficit to 57-49 with 5:20 left to play. Shortly after, Barker went to the line for two free throws looking to make it a six-point game, but she missed both.

On the other end, Hewitt earned a trip to the line and went on to make both attempts for a four-point swing, which became the story over the final 4:44 of play.

After grabbing a 10-point lead back, the Huskies went on to sink their free throws down the stretch making 25 of the 29 they attempted in the game

It eventually led to them pulling away for the 72-56 win, as the Jags started throwing up desperation shots and were unable to come away with many productive possessions.

Barker, still just a junior, finished the game with 29 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Bowers added her 14 points. Those two, plus Parkw, were named to the All-Tournament team after leading the Jags to a strong showing yet again.

While the two seniors will be missed, they did help set the foundation for this program, and now the Jags are in good shape returning Barker, as well as their other nine players from the roster aside from Bowers and Parks.

“I’m excited for the future because of what these girls have done over the last four years,” Chase said.