MACON – The Bulloch Academy girls won their second consecutive GISA Class AAA state basketball championship in rough-and-tumble fashion with a 45-41 victory over Gatewood Saturday night at Hawkins Arena on the campus of Mercer University.
“We struggled most of the game,” said BA head coach Paul Webb. “But, when we needed a defensive stop, we got it. When we needed points, we got them. I can’t say enough about the job that these seniors have done.”
Senior point guard Ashley Burke scored 14 points, senior forward Pate Lomax added 11 while both junior forward Sarah Evans and sophomore center Mikay Sands had nine each. Lomax, who was double and triple teamed all game long, took a shot to the mouth late in the third quarter that knocked out her right front cuspid.
Sporting purple bruises, taped fingers and ankles, the Bulloch Academy girls knew that the game against the Lady Gators from Eatonton would not be a walk in the park.
Up by a basket, 23-21, at intermission, the Lady Gators (28-4) were able to take a 30-24 advantage by the 5:24 mark. Evans hit a running layup and a foul shot for the lead.
Both Lomax and senior guard Page Spence collected their third fouls and freshmen subs Alivia Collins and Mattie Wynn Hendrix got the nods. Both performed well as they helped Burke, Evans and sophomore center Mikay Sands keep Gatewood senior center Leslie Calvert from scoring. Calvert, who had a game-high 17 points, had just five points in the Lomax-less third. Bulloch took a 36-32 lead at the buzzer.
Both BA senior starters returned in the final period. The duo helped Bulloch take a 42-35 lead when Burke stole the ball at halfcourt and dashed the other way for the layup with 4:34 left in the game.
But Gatewood (29-2) rallied back with four unanswered points to cut to 42-39 with 3:37 left. Seconds later, Lomax lay crumpled at the Gatewood free-throw line as play continued around her. She left the game at the 3:06 mark but, much to the relief of the BA faithful, she returned with 2:43 left.
A rough defensive battle ensued as players from both squads fought for rebounds and found themselves on the floor.
Calvert had a putback with 42 seconds left to cut the BA lead to 42-41. Bulloch played keep away and Gatewood had to foul to try and get the ball back.
Spence hit both ends of a one-and-one situation with 30.6 seconds left for a 44-41 lead. The important points were the only ones of the night for the hard-working senior. As a team, Bulloch was 13-of-16 from the charity stripe.
Gatewood brought the ball down quickly and tried a three-point shot from the right wing. The Eatonton girls got the rebound and tried a short jumper, which also missed. Burke got the rebound and raced down the court, getting fouled with less than a second on the clock. She hit the front end of the one-and-one situation to bring the score to its final.
The first quarter was a defensive battle as players on both squads tried to settle into a rhythm. Gatewood point guard Sydney Lack was as quick as BA’s Burke and matched her step for step. Lomax and Sands traded blows with Gatewood’s Calvert and Chandler Gregory.
Missed shots were the norm in the opening quarter but Gatewood’s Malcom connected with 7.2 left to give her squad a 10-9 lead.
In the second, Bulloch kicked it in to over drive and went on a 10-2 run to take a 19-12 lead. Burke had an old-fashioned three-point play with 4:45 left to give her team a seven-point lead. BA hit four-of-five free throws in the run. Burke was magical with the ball, weaving in and out of traffic and directing her teammates. She had 11 points in the first half.
But Calvert was able to energize her squad as the Eatonton girls got back into the game. She had five points in an 8-4 run to cut the BA lead to 23-21 at the half.