Lady Cougars claim second consecutive Class AA crown

Published 4:16 am Monday, February 21, 2005

By By Tim Cottrell
For 16 minutes, the "Brick House" at Huntingdon College's Delchamps Students Center lived up to its name.
The Escambia Academy Lady Cougars had shot poorly and trailed the Pickens Academy Lady Pirates throughout most of the first half, but had managed to take an 18-17 lead going into the locker room at halftime.
"I just told them that they were state champions and they knew what it would take to get things done in the second half," Lady Cougar coach Heath Gibson said. "I challenged them and said that 16 more minutes was all our seniors had left."
The Lady Cougars answered Coach Gibson's challenge with a dominating second-half performance. They outscored the Lady Pirates 29-9 in the second half to go on to a 47-26 win and capture their second consecutive Alabama Independent School Association's Class AA state crown.
Senior point guard Meagan Jackson recalled the halftime pep talk a few days later while reflecting back on her career at Escambia.
"Coach Gibson just told us that we were playing that bad and we were still up by one," Jackson said. "We just knew we had to step it up and we did that."
Junior Lori Bonds also responded in a big way to Coach Gibson's challenge.
The Lady Cougars still only led 22-19 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but a fast break, which was initiated by Jackson's steal, led to a jump shot from Bonds and a timeout by Pickens Academy.
"I don't really know what went differently (in the second half)," Bonds said. "We knew that they were going to try to take away our shots, but eventually we just knew we were going to have to start making them."
For the next eight minutes of the game it was the Lori Bonds show. The junior scored on five of six possessions by the Lady Cougars, including one running three-point heave as time expired in the third quarter, which gave the Lady Cougars a 36-22 lead heading into the final frame.
"That was just lucky," Bonds said.
The Lady Cougars refused to turn the heat down on the Lady Pirates in the fourth quarter, rolling on to victory as the student sections of the two schools traded barbs.
"We did something right by outscoring them in the second half," Gibson said. "We just knew we'd have to turn the heat up on them."
The win not only marked Escambia Academy's second consecutive state championship, but its third in four years and their fourth in six years.
"It's such a relaxing feeling to finally get this done," Gibson said. "We've had two other opportunities to go back-to-back and couldn't get it done. This was a big win."
It was the final win at Escambia Academy for four seniors; Jackson, Rayleen Miller, Kaylie Castleberry and Kerrianne Castleberry.
"They were some tough girls," Gibson said. "We'll miss all of them."
Jackson said she'll miss shooting hoops with her fellow seniors as well as her other teammates.
"I love these girls," Jackson said. "I'll miss playing with them."
Even though Bond's, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, has another year to play, she too will miss the seniors.
"I've played with these girls the entire time I've been playing," said Bonds. "It'll be different not having them around."
Seniors Jackson and Kaylie Castleberry joined Bonds on the All-Tournament team.
Bonds led all scorers with 21 points and also hauled in 10 rebounds and three assists. Kaylie Castleberry contributed nine points and nine rebounds and Jackson added eight points and two steals.
Gibson was pleased with Bonds performance.
"She's been cold for about three weeks now," Gibson said. "She was really only able to drive in and get baskets because her shot were off. We've been waiting for her to get hot again and it happened at the right time."
Bonds said she didn't realize she was on a streak. She said she was focused solely on the game.
"I knew I was making the shots, but I didn't think about being on a roll," Bonds said. "I was more concerned about winning."
Jackson said it will be hard to forget this season and the second-half tear the Lady Cougars went on to claim the title.
"I'll always remember the way we came through in the second half," she said.
Following the game the girls took in a meal at Lone Star Steakhouse in Montgomery.
Gibson, whose wife Leah had to leave Tuesday night's game after experiencing contractions, was still concerned about his wife.
"She's still hanging in there," Gibson said. "She's been going through contractions for a while. She was already at the point that she could have it at any minute, but now (that the season's over) she can have it."
Numerous parents and students, including members of EA's boys basketball team which lost the previous day to Jefferson Christian in the semi-finals, made the drive to Montgomery to support the Lady Cougars.
Throughout the fourth quarter, chants of "back-to-back" and "wait 'til next year" could be heard in the small gym, which was being rocked by the noise of the two small academies.
After yet another state championship, Gibson now seems ready for a three-peat.
"I feel pretty good (about next season)," Gibson said. "We've got some very good juniors coming back. We'll take two weeks off and then they'll be back in the gym working for next year."
Jackson, whose career with the Lady Cougars ended Wednesday and earned her three state championship rings, summed up her feelings.
"I'm kind of sad that the season's over," Jackson said. "I'm glad we won and I'm glad I was able to be a part of three of these."
Members of the Escambia Academy's state championship team included, Jackson, Bonds, Kaylie Castleberry, Kerrianne Castleberry, Miller, Allison Thomas, Jaime Drew, Ellen Corman, Courtney Smith, Katie Smith, Claire Jones, Erin Burkett, Jordan Jaye and Kaylie Miller. The Lady Cougars were coach by Gibson, along with assistant coaches Jason Allen and Larry Bonds.

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