Dateline – Roswell, Ga: In a season that featured so many firsts and big moments, it perhaps seemed inevitable that the GISA Region tournament would ultimately come down to a Lady Cougars / Lady Hawks championship. For the fifth time in his campaign the two rivals laced up their sneakers for the penultimate basketball battle. What the game lacked in artistry, it more than made up for in grit, vinegar. . .and with all of the subtlety of a jackhammer applied to concrete.
The match began auspiciously for Cottage, as they won the tip off and scored the first four points of the night, on the strength of senior Anika Helms’ short banker, and an Ana Mills field goal. In a series where no team can ever count on sustained momentum, Howard standouts Lexy Erera and Sydney Spoeth retaliated with buckets of their own to knot the game at 4 points each. Cottage amassed a few fast break opportunities, and also squeezed off some reasonable shots in the half court set, but just could not convert. The foul line proved Cottages’s best offensive weapon as both Mills and senior Galya Kysar both canned a freebie, while Kysar also tossed in a shot from inside the paint. At the close of the first period, Cottage boasted an 8 – 4 edge.
The second period saw the first big run of the game. Howard opened up the offensive spicket, lighting up 13 points over the second eight minutes. Offensive woes continued to bedevil the hometown heroines as they could only counter with 3 points of their own. Sophomore Alyssa Briggs earned a trip to the foul line and canned a shot, while Kysar muscled in a basket of her own. As a result, the Lady Hawks took a five-point spread into the halftime interlude.
The third quarter storyline carried over from the second, as Howard’s high-octane offense rang up 14 more points. Again, Cottage made opportunities for themselves, but tight rims and untimely turnovers only served to dig the Lady Cougars in deeper. Briggs shouldered the offensive punch in this stanza, knocking down two shots. At the end of three, Howard appeared on the cusp of blowing the game wide open as they enjoyed a sixteen-point bulge.
The fourth opened with the visitors pushing the advantage to 18 points on the strength of an Ava Beck power move. As has happened so many times in this series, the momentum shifted decisively as they Lady Cougars counter punched. Picking up players full court, Cottage generated a number of turnovers, and finally saw the offense flow in a more “statistically pleasing” manner. Briggs led the way with 6 fourth quarter points, while frontcourt counterpart Kysar chipped in 5. Helm rounded out the effort with 4 paint points of her own to account for a 15 point outburst. Beck answered the call with 6 tallies of her own, accounting for Howard’s full offensive output. Howard’s margin shrunk to nine, points, then to seven, but Cottage could not quite make the final push. With no time left in the game, the scoreboard documented Howard’s 37 – 30 victory.
Both teams saw players earn All Region honors for their efforts over the four previous match ups and for the championship game. Galya Kysar and Alyssa Briggs served as Cottage’s honorees. Both squads will now take their act on the road for State Tournament action which commences on Tuesday evening.
Freshman Finley Love and Julia McCauley provided the bench support for this most physical of games. Love squared up for some sound jumpers, but the dice did not roll her way on this evening. She gained credit for a steal, helped to force a turnover, and gathered a rebound. McCauley took on the swingman role, substituting for both the guard and frontcourt positions. She tracked down a pair of boards.
Ana Mills rang up 5 points, including one pretty breakaway finish. She also earned two steals and boxed out for 8 boards (3 offensive).
Celeste Jeoffroy continued to acclimate to her new position on the wing, where she focused on containing the ever dangerous, and hard driving guard Olivia DeHann (helping to limit the dynamic dynamo to just 5 points). Jeoffroy did not score, but passed for an assist, grabbed 4 boards (2 from each end of the court), and forced 4 steals. When Cottage put down the hammer in the frantic fourth quarter run, Jeoffroy rose to the occasion as one of the main disruptors.
Anika Helm mixed it up with the Lady Hawks talented frontcourt virtually from wire to wire. Helm notched 6 points, scoring the first hoop of the night, and scoring four more during crunch time in the last quarter. She also blocked 2 shots, came up with 4 steals, and hit the boards 6 times (3 offensive).
Alyssa Briggs stepped up to provide the offensive punch for her team in the second half, netting 10 of her team high 11 after the half. The mid-range jumper and the foul line provided Briggs with her trump cards for the night. She also passed for 2 assists, thieved her way to 4 steals, and pulled down 15 rebounds (3 offensive).
Senior Galya Kysar paired three opening quarter points, with 5 fourth frame finishes to close out her last home game with 8. Kysar led her team with 6 steals, batted back 2 shots, and dished for an assist. She also patrolled the boards, fighting her way to 11 (2 offensive).