When the game is on the line, Bulloch Academy head girls’ basketball coach Paul Webb can usually count on senior point guard Ashley Burke.
But Friday night in the GISA Class AAA state quarterfinals, Burke got some unexpected help from junior forward Sarah Evans.
The duo combined for 22 points, numerous rebounds, blocks and steals to lead the Lady Gators to a 38-32 victory over Westminster of Augusta.
With the win, Bulloch (26-4) advances to the Final Four next Thursday at Mercer University in Macon. The Lady Gators will face the Westwood Lady Wildcats from Camilla, who were 53-45 winners over Westfield Thursday night, at 7 p.m. Bulloch, the defending state champions, will be making its third straight Final Four appearance.
Burke’s heroics were in the fourth quarter while Evans’ came in the first.
Up by just three points, 29-26, midway through the final eight minutes, Burke and Westminster center Amber Davis dove after a loose ball. Seconds later, the Lady Gator senior was lying on the court, hugging her right knee. After what seemed like an eternity to the BA faithful, she got up and slowly walked off the court.
Davis took advantage of the stunned squad and pushed in a layup with 4:28 left to cut the BA lead to 29-28.
But Bulloch regained its composure as senior Page Spence drove the lane for a layup to retake the three-point lead with 4:21 left. Burke came back in and was as tough as ever on defense. She had a steal with 35 seconds left and hit three-of-four free throws in the final 25.4 seconds.
Evans kept the Lady Gators in the game in the first eight minutes, scoring six of Bulloch’s 11 points as the BA girls battled to get their bearings against the more aggressive squad.
“I knew I had to come out hard and play my best,” said Evans. “I was playing for my teammates. We have each others’ backs. When someone struggles, someone else has to step up.”
While BA forward Pate Lomax and center Mikay Sands fought with Davis, Auria Carter and Abbey Robertson, Evans did her best to keep the Gator girls ahead. She pulled down rebounds, played good defense and blocked shots. Her eight footer with 1:02 left gave BA its first lead of the night at 7-6.
Burke pounded a three-pointer at the buzzer for an 11-6 lead but Westminster (20-8) went on a small run in the second to cut the lead to 11-10. Davis, who led WSA with 10 points, had a put back at the 3:20 mark. Evans sparked a 6-0 run with a six-footer with 3:01 left and Burke finished it with a 10-foot floater at the 1:49 mark. Bulloch took a 17-13 lead at intermission.
Spence did a superb defensive job on WSA’s Zakira Goldsberry. The speedster had 25 Tuesday night in their blowout victory over Trinity Christian of Sharpsburg. Against the Lady Gators, she had just four.
In the third, Westminster knotted the score at 17-17 by the 5:25 mark. Evans broke the tie with a 12-footer and Sands hit four of her eight points for a 23-17 lead. Lomax, who had just six on the night, added jumper for a 25-17 lead with 3:09 left. BA took a 29-21 lead at the horn.
Westminster went on a 5-0 run to open the fourth and set the stage for the dramatic ending.
Today, the Bulloch boys (20-8) try to punch their ticket to the big dance as they take on Loganville Christian (22-3) in the quarterfinal game at 4:30 p.m.