It’s been an up and down season for the Bulloch Academy Gator basketball team, so why would the region championship game be any different?
Gator fans who went to both the boys and girls championship games must feel like they just got off a roller coaster. Saturday’s boy’s region championship against St. Andrews saw four ties and eight lead changes in the last quarter alone. Ryan Swanson’s turnaround jumper in the lane with 3.6 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in a 55-54 Gator victory.
“That team has been the top team in our region, but we played really well to knock them off tonight,” said Coach Chance Cofield. “This would have been a fun game if I was watching but not when I was coaching. We started off a little slow but battled back and made the plays when we needed to.”
The Gators trailed 47-45 with three minutes to go. Bryce Clifton then hit a three-pointer from the corner to give the Gators a 48-47 lead. Zion Griffin answered for the Lions with a driving layup and a foul. He completed the three-point play for a 50-48 St. Andrews lead. Bo Spence quickly answered with a driving layup to tie the game at 50-50 with less than two minutes to play.
After a BA stop Clifton hit one of two free throws to make it 51-50. Samuel Mills then hit his third three-pointer of the fourth quarter to allow St. Andrews to retake the lead at 53-51. A Miller Pope putback tied the game at 53-53, but the Lions took a 54-53 lead as Zyre Edwards hit one of two free throws with 27 seconds left in the game.
Cofied was content to put the game in Swanson’s hands, and the senior eventually made that move pay off. St. Andrews played tight defense and Swanson was forced to dribble much of the clock down. With about six seconds left Swanson made his move to the basket, drove into the lane, faked left, spun right jumped and hit nothing but net from about eight feet away.
1.6 seconds were shown on the clock as the Saints called time out, but the referees discussed things and 3.6 seconds were put on the clock. The Gators pressured the ball immediately and all the Lions could get was a half court desperation heave that fell well short, and the celebration was on.
“I think this is like the third time this season Ryan has taken the shot at the end to give us the win,” said Cofield. “He is a senior and I have faith that he can make a play when we need him to.”
“I was just trying to take what the defense gave me on that last play,” said Swanson. “I spun away from the defender and got to my spot and I knew it was going in. It was a wild game, St. Andrews is a great team but we had guys step up tonight hats off to Chas and Miller for playing tough tonight too.”
In the early going the Gators fell behind 15-13 at the end of the first quarter, but battled back to take a 26-25 lead into halftime. Swanson, Spence and Collins paced the Gators in the first half. Collins had seven points, Spence and Swanson each had six points in the half.
“Chas and Miller gave us a huge presence in the paint tonight and I was so proud of them,” said Cofield. “I think if we can continue to get play like that from them I like our chances in the state playoffs.”
The game saw its fare share of fouls with the Gators hitting 13-18 for 72% from the line. St. Andrews was 19-27 for 70% for the game. Swanson led all scorers with 19 points. Bo Spence and Chas Collins each had 10 points. St. Andrews was led by Griffin with 17, while Edwards had 16.
The title is the Gators sixth region championship in the last seven years. Up next the Gators will host a yet to be determined foe Wednesday night at Gator Alley. The girls will host a yet to be determined team Tuesday evening.