#039;Rammed#039; in the final

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Call it karma.

After the Fort Dale Lady Eagles beat the Lady Gators of Glenwood School by 29 points in the semi-final, a 30-plus point loss in the AAA State Championship wouldn't have even been considered.

That is until they took the court against the Faith Lady Rams.

The Lady Eagles and the Lady Rams had met three times, each time in tournament finals. And each time they met the score became more and more one-sided.

"I am still very proud of the team," said Reggie Mantooth, coach of the Fort Dale Lady Eagles.

"The seniors accomplished a lot, and I am proud that we got back to state this year."

Fort Dale ended the 2004 season by knocking off Faith in the AISA State championship, 57-50. That also ended Faith's five-year reign as defending champions.

From there, the Lady Eagles and the Lady Rams met up again in the finals of the Fort Dale Thanksgiving tournament that resulted in an overtime loss for the home-standing Lady Eagles.

Faith defeated Fort Dale a second time in the Faith Christmas tournament and then handed the Eagles their worst loss of the season in the Lee-Scott Tournament, which was nearly 60 points.

"We got a lot of motivation after losing to them last year," said Woodie Head, coach of the Faith Lady Rams.

"We played really good team basketball today. It took a while for the team to gel this year, but it worked out well. We are only losing 2 players this year. Every year our goal is to win State. "

"We might not get it every year, but it's always our hope."

Through the first period of Saturday's Class AAA match-up for the State Championship, the Lady Eagles were able to keep things close and midway through the period had cut the Lady Ram lead to three, 14-11 thanks to baskets from Maryanne Hancock, Laura Skipper, and Wesley Atkins.

"We always said that we wanted to play Faith in the finals our senior year," said Atkins. "Even though it didn't come out like we hoped it would, it taught us a lot. Coach has been absolutely great. He's been great to us as people and players."

Faith quickly turned up the defensive pressure and forced turnovers and pushed ahead to 23-11 before Frances Watts sank a pull-up jumper.

Tiffany Sanders took the ball on the inbound pass and worked the clock before driving down the baseline and sinking a lay-in as the horn sounded to end the first period.

At the end of the first period, the Lady Eagles trailed by 12, 25-13.

The second period opened with Gercia Johnson receiving back-to-back fouls, and the Lady Eagles were able to capitalize on the swing in momentum and strung together a 5-0 run with a basket by Atkins and then a basket and a free throw from Watts. Head was forced to call a time out to get his troops back on track.

That is just what they did. For the rest of the period, the Lady Ram press effectively shut down the Lady Eagles offense and ended the period with a 13-0 run.

Sanders got the run started and Christian Shelter finished it as Faith spread the offense out and moved the ball around to kill the clock before Sanders drove the lane only to miss the shot. Shelter was there to gather up the rebound and bound back up for the basket.

Things were not looking good for the defending state champion Lady Eagles. At the intermission, they were down 42-18.

"I really thought they might try something different, but they played like they always do," said Head.

"Coach Mantooth does a great job with that team. He is one of the best, if not the best coach in AISA. I have a lot of respect for him.

He always has his players very well prepared. They came out fired up, and we expected it with them having such a large crowd. Both of the teams played well, but we played just a little better. The match up was in our favor. Our players rose to the occasion and played the best they could."

Fort Dale's usual suspects, Watts, Hancock and Skipper were once again the team leaders despite the low tally on the scoreboard, they were the ones providing most of the offense, Watts had seven points, Hancock had four and Skipper had three points from the first period. Atkins had also contributed to the score to round out the 18-team points.

"I was not nervous about the game," said Watts. "We came out and tried our best, which is all we can do. I am very excited that we got this far."

"Runner-up is nothing to be ashamed of. This is already bringing a lot of motivation for next year."

Watts and Skipper were selected to the All-Tournament Team.

While the Lady Rams were getting a majority of their scoring from Shelter with 14 points, Sanders with nine points and Johnson with 22 points. The three Lady Rams were also selected to the All-Tournament team with Johnson taking home tourney MVP honors.

At the start of the third period, the Lady Eagles were looking to reverse their fortune.

Johnson was called for a technical foul early in the second period, sending Skipper to the line. The senior drained a pair of free throws, providing her with her first points since the first period and the team's first baskets since midway through the second period.

It also gave the Lady Eagles possession of the ball, which was quickly turned back over to the Lady Rams.

"We didn't play very well," said Mantooth. "Faith is one of the best teams I have ever seen. We thought we could play with them, but we just couldn't. They had one of the best shooting games."

Watts shows her defensive presence on the court, blocking two shots before finally fouling Cara Payne and sending her to the line.

Payne knocks down a pair of freebies and pushes the Faith lead back out to 24, 44-20. Shelter and Johnson tack on baskets to push the lead to 48-20.

Hancock gets the basket and the foul shot with 3:43 left in the third period to cut the lead to 25, 48-23.

The Lady Eagles turn the pressure on as time ticks down.

Hancock tacks on a basket cutting the lead to 23, 48-25. Shelter answers back with a pair of baskets and then the Lady Rams go into their stall offense and kill nearly a minute off the clock before Johnson is fouled and sent to the line for two.

She sinks the two freebies. Fort Dale inbounds the ball as the clock winds down signaling the end of the third period with the Faith Lady Rams up 54-25.

The fourth and final period proved to be the breaking point for the Lady Eagles.

As chants of "Ya'll recruited" echoed through the Huntingdon Gym from the Fort Dale stands, the Lady Rams pushed ahead 73-35 lead.

"We wanted to play Fort Dale because we felt they were second best in AISA and in a championship game," said Head, "you want to play the best."

Senior Stephanie Hood was fouled and sank her final two free throws as a Lady Eagle to bring the game to its final of 73-37.

Hancock proved to be the leading scorer for the Lady Eagles with 13 points, followed by Watts with 12 points and the senior, Skipper finished her Fort Dale career with eight points.

For the Lady Rams, who according to Head, will return a majority of their team for the 2005-2006 season Shelter proved to be the team's leading scorer with 22 points.

Johnson finished the day two shy of the junior with 20 points and Sanders finished her career as a Faith Lady Ram with 14 points.

Despite the way the AISA tournament final played out for the Lady Rams, Mantooth is confident about his team in the upcoming season. The Lady Eagles will lose six seniors – Laura Beth Jones, Atkins, Skipper, Hood, Amy Arthur and Laura Waller but will return a strong underclass led by Watts, Hancock and Lacey Norrell on defense.

"We will be losing six seniors, but the young players are promising," said Mantooth.

"I am gong to give the team a couple of months off, but June will start camp and training."

For the Lady Rams, Head returns pretty much the whole team. He dressed three freshmen for Saturday final and only loses two seniors.

The Lady Eagles and the Lady Rams are no strangers and will more than likely continue to match-up next season the way they did this one.