Spain Park downs rival Hoover for 2nd title in 3 years

Published 8:02 pm Saturday, February 29, 2020

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

BIRMINGHAM – Following last year’s Elite Eight loss to Hewitt-Trussville, Spain Park girls basketball head coach Mike Chase bought a mini replica state championship trophy and slapped the year 2020 on it. That trophy, named Stanley because of its home inside a Stanley toolbox, followed his team everywhere. To workouts, to practices, to the track for conditioning.

On Saturday, Feb. 29, Chase got the opportunity to say “We went from this, to that,” while pointing at the actual 2020 Class 7A State Championship trophy following Spain Park’s 47-44 win over crosstown rival Hoover in the title game.

“Stanley is what pushed us,” Chase said before holding the trophy up and saying “this was our vision to get back to this championship. Every time we started to slack and slip, I’d pull Stanley out and they’d look at him, and I’d say ‘This is what we are working for.’ We set the vision and these guys followed through all the way through.”

And that was no more evident than in the final quarter of the state championship game.

Early in the fourth quarter, Alanah Pooler hit back-to-back layups to put Spain Park up by 16 points at 35-19, but from there, the Jags faced their toughest test of the season.

Hoover, who was struggling mightily from the field at 5-for-35 from the field through the first three quarters, finally found some success on both ends of the floor. The Buccaneers were able to go on a 15-3 run, which brought them to within four points following an and-1 from Reniya Kelly.

That sparked a string of 11 straight points from Kelly over the final 3:11 of the game. But the real kicker came when star senior and Georgia signee Sarah Ashlee Barker fouled out of the game with 2:03 to play.

To that point, Barker had struggled to have her usual dominant offensive game, but she still had 11 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and was her team’s best defender.

“I tried to let her make a layup because that’s better than getting an and-1,” Barker said after the game. “Of course, it being my last game and being a senior in the state championship game, you don’t want to come out. It was a lot of emotion, but I had to get it together quick because I had to be a leader off the court and that was the most important thing to focus on.”

With her out, Spain Park not only struggled to maintain possession over the final two minutes, but struggled just to get the ball in.

“The inbounder was the most important player on the floor, and we were having trouble doing that,” Chase said.

That led to Hoover eventually trimming the lead all the way from 16 points early in the quarter down to two points at 44-42 after Kelly hit another and-1.

But following that huge three points for the Bucs, Haley Russell stepped up and rattled home two free throws to put the Jags back up by four points.

“Sarah Ashlee had just come out of the game, so I knew I had to step up,” Russell said. “I said ‘This is my chance. This is my opportunity.’ That’s what it was and I just stepped up.”

Following that, Hoover’s Madison Adamson hit a jumper on the other end to bring the Bucs back within two points but with just seven seconds to play.

After getting the ball inbounds, Spain Park’s Avery Masdon stepped to the line looking to put the game away.

She missed the front end of the two free throws, but despite the pressure, she sank the second free throw to put her team up by three points in the final seconds.

That forced Hoover to have to take a 3-pointer, and with time running out, Spain Park’s defense played so tight, that the Bucs weren’t able to even release a shot until after the buzzer had sounded.

At that point, all of Spain Park’s players sprinted to midcourt and embraced in celebration after claiming the team’s second championship in three years and doing so in thrilling fashion as every player stepped up in the final two minutes.

“I’m usually not at a loss of words, but I am now,” Chase said. “I knew Hoover was going to have a run in them. They made our other guys have to make plays.”

Coincidentally, Stanley was also wrapped in a No. 24 jersey inside the toolbox not only marking Chase’s 24th year as a head coach, but also marking the same number as his daughter’s jersey, who tore her ACL in the semifinals two days earlier and was forced to sit in the title game putting Spain Park down a starter.

After winning the game and sprinting to grab the trophy, the Jags halted their jumping around, grabbed Camille and lifted her up in the air as No. 24 was now hoisting the trophy instead of hiding it. 

“Camille is probably our best defender on the floor,” Barker said. “When we’re in practice, she’s always on me and she guards me better than anyone in the state. Losing a key defender like that hurts your team, but at the same time you want to play for her and win it for her and that’s what we did today.”

And despite Camille sitting on the bench watching the game as the best defender, the Jags upped their play for her and held Hoover to just 19 points in the first three quarters and held them to 13-for-56 shooting from the field and 2-for-19 from beyond the arc.

For the Jags, Barker led the way with her 11 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, but Masdon was also big with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists. In addition to that, Katie Flannery added seven points, while Russell and Pooler added six apiece.

The win also marked redemption for the Jags in more ways than last year’s loss in the Elite Eight to Hewitt-Trussville.

During Barker’s freshman year, she hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the 2016 state championship game against Hoover to overtime.

The Jags went on to lose that game in overtime, but four years later, the senior’s legacy feels complete after coming full circle and completing redemption against the Bucs in the 2020 state championship game. It not only marked the last win of her historic career, which featured three championship game appearances in four years, but she goes out with a win over her rival and a two-time state champion.

“It’s redemption,” Barker said. “We won my 10th grade year, but we didn’t get to play Hoover in the championship. Our freshman year, we lost to them and this year we beat them. That makes it 10 times better.”

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