MACON — Bulloch Academy won its first-ever girls’ basketball state championship in convincing fashion Saturday night, whipping Stratford Academy 46-29 in the GISA Class AAA title game at Hawkins Arena on the campus of Mercer University.
“This is probably the best feeling in the world,” said Lady Gator junior point guard Ashley Burke.
Bulloch completed the season with a stellar 33-1 record. The Lady Gators had finished second in the state three times (1977, 1978 and 2010) but had never won the Big Dance.
Up by seven at the end of the third quarter, the BA girls kicked things into high gear in the fourth and outscored Stratford 14-4 in the final eight minutes. A large contingent of Bulloch Academy students, parents and well-wishers stormed the floor when the final buzzer sounded.
“I looked around and felt like I was in a dream,” said Burke. “So many people came from Statesboro to watch the game and support us. I felt blessed and thankful.”
Senior Chelsea Oglesby led BA with 12 points while classmate Danielle Atkinson and Burke had nine each.
The game was billed as the battle of the big girls and it lived up to the hype. The Bulloch trio of senior Oglesby, junior Pate Lomax and freshman Mikay Sands squared off with SA’s Bonnie Jarrad, Lucy Bobbin and Taylor Reese.
The Gator girls had had their way with Westfield Friday night but Stratford was a little less accomodating. In the first half, Oglesby had just six points while Sands only had a bucket and Lomax was held scoreless. Reese had seven and Jarrad added six.
The battle between Lomax and Jarrad was particularly rough and aggressive. The juniors went at it tooth-and-nail on both ends of the floor. Lomax, who scored 26 just a night before, was frustrated as Jarrad matched her move for move. Reese was the wildcard and, in the first half, looked poised to lead the Eaglettes (26-4) into the lead.
But it was Bulloch’s superior guard play that made the difference.
Burke, Atkinson, senior Brooke Gilbert and junior Page Spence were quicker and could shoot better than their Stratford counterparts. Defense was also the key as the Lady Gator guards created turnovers, stole the ball and wrestled the SA girls for jump balls.
When the Eaglettes broke BA’s 1-3-1 press and threatened to score on a driving layup, it was the guards who hustled back to block the path.
Stratford took a three-point lead of the game early in the opening quarter but never led again.
The Lady Gators went on a 6-0 run late in the first eight minutes to take a 14-6 lead by the horn.
Stratford rallied in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 17-13 when Reese pushed in a layup with 4:18 left. Bulloch went to a three-post lineup shortly afterward to thwart the SA inside attack. Still, the Eaglettes attacked and BA escaped with a 21-17 halftime lead.
BA head coach Paul Webb made a few halftime changes and talked bluntly to his big girls.
“I challenged the post players to get out there and guard Jarrad,” he said. “That is exactly what Chelsea, Pate and Mikay did.”
The Stratford leader did not score in the second half.
“We also went to a box-and-one defense and put a guard on Reese,” added Webb. “That disrupted their whole flow in the second half.”
Atkinson and Spence drew the assignment. The BA senior spent the majority of the second half bouncing up and down in front of the tall Stratford junior. The Lady Gator pair held Reese to just three buckets in the second half.
Oglesby and Lomax seemed to regain their confidence in the third quarter. Her floater from the free-throw line at the 5:40 mark gave BA a 28-19 lead.
The battles continued and intensified as all 10 girls gave it their all in their final game of the season. Reese cut the Lady Gator lead to 30-25 with 34 seconds left but Gilbert snuck in the back door and got a put-back layup with 1.9 remaining for a 32-25 advantage.
Atkinson started off the final period with a three-pointer to give Bulloch a 10-point cushion. Bulloch began to move the ball around on offense. A patient 6-0 run ran the clock down to the 2:37 mark with the Lady Gators holding a 41-25 lead.