Pelham’s Timbreanna Hudson (32) goes up for a shot against Laney’s Geniya Bowman (11) Thursday night in the Class AA girls state quarterfinals at Pelham High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
PELHAM — In less than one minute, the Pelham High School girls’ dream season turned into a nightmare.
In their own gym nonetheless.
Laney of Augusta intercepted an errant pass, preventing the potential game-tying basket with 14 seconds left and stunned the unbeaten Lady Hornets 58-51 in the Class AA state tournament quarterfinals Thursday night.
As the final seconds expired, the normally joyous Lady Hornets turned into a shocked group in disbelief.
It had been almost a year since Pelham and its fans had tasted a loss — and it came in Augusta last year against the same Laney Lady Wildcats.
“Last year was hard,” said Herald Super 6er Briunna Freeman, fighting back tears. “This year is even tougher, knowing that you are the better team. It’s just hard.”
In their closest game since beating Class AAAAAA’s Lowndes High by eight in the Turner County Christmas Tournament, the Lady Hornets couldn’t overcome their miscues in the closing seconds. Pelham coach Antonia Tookes said she probably won’t be watching the game film for a while.
“I just watched the tape of last year’s game against Laney the other day,” she said. “It’ll be a while before I want to look at this one.”
The Lady Hornets chewed up nearly two minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter, nursing a one-point lead at 51-50. But with 59 seconds left, Laney stole the ball at midcourt, then sank a layup to go ahead by one.
On Pelham’s ensuing possession, Hilary Williams drew a foul, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Freeman grabbed the rebound, then missed a chance to go ahead when her attempt sailed over the goal and into Laney’s hands.
After Laney missed on its end, the Lady Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound, then burned all but 18.8 seconds off the clock.
The Lady Hornets fouled Walnetia Wright on the inbounds pass, who sank both free throws to make it 54-51.
Pelham had a chance to tie, but Laney picked off the pass just underneath the basket, stunning the capacity crowd. Freeman said she never saw the ball Williams was trying to pass to her.
“To be honest, I don’t remember what I was thinking,” Tookes said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my.’
“All night long, we didn’t box out great as a team. It caught up with us.”
Laney killed Pelham inside throughout much of the game, pounding the offensive boards. In a back-and-forth affair throughout much of the evening, several Pelham players believed they were playing the officials and Laney.
Williams and Freeman picked up three fouls in the first half. But several questionable calls appeared to take the Lady Hornets out of their defensive game, which had been their backbone all season.
“The officials were horrible,” a frustrated Freeman said.
Tookes added that the team’s foul trouble did take them out of their game.
“I had to sit two of my best ball-handlers,” she said. “We held it together for a while. The girls couldn’t play freely. They had to play careful and cautious.”
Freeman led the Lady Hornets with 15 points, while Williams added nine, Timbreanna Hudson eight and Annie Franklin seven.
The loss was a tough one to swallow. Near the end of the first quarter of the boys game, the team received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
“That almost made me cry … again,” Tookes said. “It was a great season, but we still did not accomplish our goal of winning the state title.”