Mitchell County star A’Miracle Jones walks off the court between halves of Thursday’s state championship loss to Randolph-Clay. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
MACON — Aaliyah Childs broke the silence.
In a locker room full of tears and heartbreak, the Mitchell County senior finally said the inevitable following Thursday’s 53-32 loss to Randolph-Clay in the Class A public school girls state championship game.
“Aaliyah said she was going to miss the team and that we had a special season,” Mitchell County senior A’Miracle Jones said. “I couldn’t say anything back.”
None of Jones’ teammates could either.
It was a devastating loss for a Mitchell County team that was looking for the first girls basketball state championship in school history. It was a loss that stung not only for the team’s four seniors, but also for the hundreds that made the trip from Camilla to watch the Lady Eagles lose to rival Randolph-Clay for the fourth time this season.
“Hurt. That was all we felt. We were hurt,” said Jones, who led the Lady Eagles with 12 points. “It was a special season because we made history, but we didn’t want it to end like this.”
The Lady Eagles only lost seven games all season — but four of them were to Randolph-Clay. The first three losses to Randolph-Clay were close, including an overtime nail-biter in the Region 1-A championship game.
Thursday’s loss was a blowout.
And it was stunning.
“We went in thinking it was going to be our night because it’s hard to beat a team over and over again,” Mitchell County coach Rosemary Sanders said. “You get tired of getting beat, and it’s like a fight for your life. We knew it was going to be tough, but we felt like we would come out on top.”
Instead, the Lady Eagles fell behind 7-0 and trailed by double digits nearly the entire game.
Mitchell County cut it to nine points in the closing moments of the third quarter and was a Jones 3-pointer away from drawing to within six. But Jones’ shot clanked off the rim, and Randolph-Clay raced down the court to hit a layup and take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter.
It was a swing in momentum that buckled Mitchell County at the knees, and the Lady Eagles were never able to recover.
“I’m thinking things are turning around and things are changing,” Sanders said about her team nearly cutting the deficit to six points. “But then we got a couple of calls that didn’t go our way, and it took away our momentum. Each time that we cut into their lead, it seemed like they made some calls that weren’t appropriate at the time to cut into the momentum.”
Jones picked up two fouls in the first 30 seconds of the game, and from there the Lady Eagles felt they were playing against both Randolph-Clay and the officials.
“I think they already knew who they wanted to win the game,” Jones, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter, said about the officials. “They gave me two untouchable fouls in less than a minute in the first quarter. They took us out of our game.”
Randolph-Clay was whistled for 13 fouls, while Mitchell County was called for 21, and Sanders didn’t shy away from what she called “awful” officiating.
“The referees didn’t help at all,” Sanders said. “I thought the officiating was awful. It wasn’t fair.”
It was an uphill battle from the beginning for Mitchell County, which began the game with two key players — Antonia Jones and Myesha Williams — injured. The two saw sporadic playing time and contributed just five combined points.
Other than A’Miracle Jones, who finished the game 4-of-11 from the field, it was a quite afternoon from the rest of the Lady Eagles, who were 6-for-44 from the field. They finished with more turnovers (12) than field goals (10).
“This was our first time being in Macon, and we were a little nervous,” Mitchell County senior Shonbreka Holton said when asked about the team’s poor shooting. “We aren’t used to all of this.”
The loss ended Mitchell County’s season at 25-7 and snapped an inspiring postseason run by the No. 7 seed Lady Eagles.
“We are still champions in my eyes,” Holton said. “We weren’t victorious, but we are still champions.”