Mitchell County’s Shonbreka Holton, left, drives around Pelham’s Timbreanna Hudson during Saturday’s Region 1-A title game. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PELHAM — They stormed the court as one — one huge ball of jubilation, emotions and joy spilling onto the the floor all at once, all in one big memorable moment.
Mitchell County’s girls had just beaten defending Region 1-A champ Pelham, right there in the Pelham gym, to claim the Region 1-A title with a gutsy hang-on-till-the-end game, winning, 54-48, late Saturday night.
“It feels wonderful. It just feels wonderful,‘’ said Mitchell County coach Rosemary Sanders, who jumped almost as high as her players when the Lady Eagles put it away.
Shonbreaka Holton made 6-of-8 free throws, including four in a row in the final minute to break a 46-46 tie and put the game in Mitchell’s hands.
“I was real nervous. I was afraid I was going to miss it, she said of the first of the four free throws that came with 59 seconds left and the score knotted at 46-46. “The Pelham crowd was on its feet and the packed gym was going crazy. Pelham had just stormed back with a 9-0 run to tie things at 46, and now Mitchell was looking for something to cling to — it turned out to be Holton, a sophomore.
“The crowd was (so loud) and I was nervous, but then I looked into the crowd and I saw my Mama, and she was telling me to concentrate,’’ said Holton, who finished with 16 points. “Then I just eliminated the crowd and concentrated — and made the free throws.’’
Mitchell had lost to Pelham by 18 and 20 points in the regular season, and the Lady Hornets, who are ranked No. 4 in The Herald Fab 5 Poll and had been ranked in the Top 10 in the Class A state poll all year. But it was Mitchell’s night. The Lady Eagles enter the GHSA Class A State Tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 15-12 record.
“They beat us by 20, and I wanted to beat them real bad,’’ said Mitchell sophomore sensation A’Miracle Jones, who had a monster night, scoring 27 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. “I had to do it for my team. We just had to win. It feels good, real good. Words can’t explain how good it feels.’’
And the difference on Saturday?
“We played as one,’’ she said. “We played as a team.’’
Her coach felt the same way.
“That was the difference,’’ Sanders said. “That makes the biggest difference in the world. When you play as a team anything can happen.’’
The two county rivals swapped the lead all night. First, Mitchell started fast and furious to grab an 11-5 lead, only to see Pelham come right back and take the lead in the second quarter. The Lady Hornets (24-4) went to halftime leading 28-22, thanks to Octavia Kierce (8 first half points) and freshman Briunna Freeman (9 first-half points).
But neither scored in the third quarter as Jones dominated the boards and Mitchell’s defense held Pelham to just two baskets. Mitchell went to the fourth holding a 36-33 lead, and built it to a comfortable nine-point edge that looked insurmountable after Kierce fouled out in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
But Freeman was inspiring.
The look on her face said it all as she simply took over the game, and brought Pelham back. The Lady Hornets were down, 46-37 with 2:38 left in the game when Freeman took over. She grabbed three rebounds, made a steal and hit a free throw, a coast-to-coast drive and then busted a 3 for a personal 6-point run that closed the gap to 46-43 with 1:27 left. Then Shamdaiyh Davis followed Freeman’s crowd-lifting 3 with a steal, and Pelham went to Herald Super 6er Shay Reese, who busted a long 3 to knot things at 46-46 with 1:13 left.
“I was real proud of (Briunna). I was proud of all of them,” Pelham Antonia Tookes said. “We have no excuses. Congratulations to coach Sanders and her team.”
Freeman finished with 17 points and Reese, who fouled out with 59 seconds left, finished with 10 points.
But that was it for Pelham, as the Lady hornets missed their next four shots and Jones and Holton scraped the rebounds up for Mitchell.
Then Holton stepped to the line, looked at her mother, Andrea, and dropped in a region title.
“She stepped up,’’ Sanders said. “She stepped up and hit the big free throws, the ones that counted the most.’’