MADISON — The regular season concluded with Mars Hill sitting atop the girls Class 3A rankings.
When 3A play tips off at the Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville next week, the Panthers won’t be part of it despite spending most of the year ranked among the state’s elite.
Junior guard Sierra Jones sank two free throws with 21.8 seconds left and Madison Academy made two defensive stops as time wound down to claim a 45-43 win in 3A sub-regional action Thursday night.
The Mustangs (25-8) play Danville at the Northwest Regional next Thursday at 6 p.m. in Hanceville. Mars Hill’s season ends at 24-8.
“We were down 10 points (41-31) with 2½ minutes (left) against, in my opinion, one of the top two ballclubs we’ve played ... them and Lauderdale County,” said Mars Hill coach Ashley Rutledge. “They fought and they fought and had so much fight and courage to come back.
“I’m really proud of them, especially our three seniors. We’ve had a hard road this year as far as a tough schedule. Getting thrown up to 3A was hard, but they took the challenge and I’m real proud of their leadership.”
Mars Hill never led and was tied only once, that coming on two free throws by senior Ann Marie Mitchell with 42.8 seconds left that made it 43-43. Mitchell finished with a game-high 18 points, including 12-of-13 from the free throw line.
But Jones was fouled as she sliced between two defenders on the next trip down the court and calmly sank both ends of the one-and-one to push the Mustangs ahead again, 45-43. The Panthers had an in-bounds play with 6.9 seconds on the clock, but the ensuing shot fell short and Jones snatched the rebound to preserve the victory.
The cold-shooting Panthers found themselves trailing 13-0 with more than five minutes elapsed to start the game. Mary Brooke Willis ended the drought with a putback at the 2:39 mark that sparked an 8-0 Mars Hill run, but Madison Academy scored on a layup for a 15-8 lead after one quarter.
“I was really proud of my girls and the way we started out the game,” Madison Academy coach Brian Privett said of his team jumping ahead 13-0. “I thought we made a huge statement.
“To hold them to 16 points in the first half made a statement about our defense. I wasn’t happy with the way we handled some situations at the end of the game, but I was happy with our heart and surviving.”
“It’s sub-regional: you lose and you go home and we knew that,” said Jones, who led Madison Academy with 14 points, all but two coming in the second half. “We knew they were going to come back.”
Madison Academy led 25-16 at halftime and 35-27 entering the fourth.
Imani Kyser added 12 points for the Mustangs. Willis scored nine and Tatyana Rutherford seven for Mars Hill.