Sparkman watches as title slips through their fingersPublished 6:23am Saturday, March 1, 2014
BIRMINGHAM- In the end, all they could do was watch. Three of Sparkman’s five starters including both guards fouled out in the fourth quarter as Shades Valley surged from behind and won their first state girls’ basketball championship 63-49 to dash top-ranked Sparkman’s title hopes Friday night at the BJCC.
Playing with only seven players on their team, Shades Valley took control using a press that forced 23 Sparkman turnovers. Sparkman averaged eight during the regular season.
The turnovers led to fouls that put the Mounties on the free throw line 50 times. Shades Valley hit 36 free throws in the game, 28 in the fourth quarter in which they outscored Sparkman 28-9.
“It was a tough loss,” said Sparkman coach Patrick Delay. “We tried to overcome the adversity that was out there tonight and we did for the most part. We were in it until the end and we had to start fouling and they knocked the free throws down. We were ahead on every stat at halftime but the second half was totally different.”
Sparkman jumped to a first quarter lead after Chelsea Robinson started the scoring with a three-pointer. Alexis Jennings dominated the first half with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Her offensive rebound and put back gave Sparkman a 9-2 lead. Her three point play off a tip in with 24 seconds left in the first quarter gave Sparkman their biggest lead of the game at 18-7.
But there were troubling signs. Sparkman committed turnovers on five straight possessions and missed opportunities to add on to the lead. Shades Valley cut the lead to 18-12 as the first quarter ended.
Chelsea Robinson got two quick fouls in the first quarter. She fouled out in the fourth quarter with three points. Another starting guard, Wynter Sales, did not score any points and also fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Maiya Rumph fouled out with four points, well below her average. The three scored no points in the second half.
“We got in foul trouble and had to switch defenses and had to go zone and we tried to play inside the arc defense but we could never get in rhythm defensively. It seemed like every time they went down the court a foul was called,” Delay said.
“We had to play some kids who normally would not get those minutes but give ShadesValley credit.”
Shades Valley surged ahead in the second quarter and took a 27-26 lead on a three point play by Ra’shaun Showers. At halftime, Sparkman led 30-27 but had committed 14 fouls to 5 for Shades Valley.
By the end of the third quarter, Sparkman was clinging to a five point lead but three guards were in foul trouble with four on Rumph and Sales.
Shades Valley opened the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run that grew to a 19-5 run. Sales fouled out with 5:47 left. The Mounties took the lead for good at 43-42 on two free throws by Frantisha Tyson as Rumph fouled out at 5:22. Robinson fouled out after committing back-to-back fouls at 3:48.
Sparkman’s Alexis Jennings dominated in the post scoring 28 points and pulling 19 rebounds. She went most of the game with no fouls. For the game Sparkman committed 36 fouls to 14 on Shades Valley.
Shades Valley relied mostly on guard Morgan William who was named Tournament MVP. William, a senior Mississippi State signee, scored 21 on 17-28 free throws and 2 of 13 from the field.
“We knew Morgan was going to get points but we wanted her to get them from the field not the free throw line,” Delay said.
“We knew coming in that Alexis was going to be very hard to maintain,” ShadesValley coach Tonya Hunter said. “We wanted to find out early if we could take control of the guard game and they kept allowing us to get to the basket so we started making adjustments with the guards.”
It is the end of an era of dominance for Sparkman who will graduate five seniors. Three will go on to play college basketball.
“I told the seniors how much I appreciated them staying with me after I got the job two years ago. They could have gone elsewhere and played but they bought into everything how I wanted to play and they have been the cornerstone of my program,” Delay said.