By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
As Scott Adams sat at the podium following Holly Pond's 38-30 Class 3A girls state semifinal win over Straughn, the oft-emotional coach was once again fighting back tears while describing his team's latest triumph.
"I can't explain the last two weeks," Adams said. "This team is incredible. These girls, their resiliency. It looked like we were almost out of it today, but they just battled so hard defensively, ran the floor and made things happen at the end."
The Broncos wrote one more chapter in their storied season on Wednesday, outpacing and outscoring the Tigers 18-6 in the fourth quarter to secure their first ticket to a state title tilt in school history.
"My dad coached in three state Final Fours but never made it to a championship game," Adams said. "To be up here and experience it with this team, it's just incredible."
No. 7 Holly Pond (29-5) got off to a tepid start early, finding itself down 12-5 early in the second quarter before a Kaitlyn Stephens 3-pointer jolted some energy into her team and the Green and White fanbase that cascaded throughout the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
Despite being plagued by early foul trouble, the Broncos shared a 16-16 tie heading into halftime, thanks in part to a solid press backed by good team defense.
"That 3 was a momentum-shifter for us," Adams said. "You get behind this team too much and it's hard to make a comeback. They really know what they want to do on offense."
Holly Pond struck cold in the third quarter, scoring just four points, while at the same time having difficulty defending Straughn's Jacie Williamson and Brittany Driver in the post.
The Broncos' inefficiency on offense, coupled with increasing foul problems, made Adam's philosophy of pressure defense moot and led to his team trailing by four entering the final frame.
"We couldn't press like we wanted to," Adams said. "Meg (Gambrill) had three fouls and she really drives what we like to do on defense. We just had to play a straight-up, match-up zone."
Fortunately for Adams, all of Holly Pond's offensive woes melted away in the final eight minutes, as the Broncos found the gas pedal, pressed down hard and never let up en route to their semifinal victory.
Trailing by one, Gambrill atoned for her early fouls, sinking a 3-pointer to give her team a two-point lead.
The No. 9 Tigers (32-3) tied the game on their next possession, but after that, it was all Holly Pond.
Gambrill scored again on a running jumper off a takeaway from Taylor Rowell to give the Broncos a 28-26 cushion. Steals — three from Rowell and two from Gambrill — led to three-straight layups on the other end that gave Holly Pond an eight-point advantage with just over a minute to play.
Gambrill was humble about her up-and-down performance afterward, giving all the credit to her teammates.
"I don't deserve to be up here," she said at the podium. "My team told me to shake it off (foul trouble) at halftime. They played really well. All of my teammates did."
Staked to a comfortable lead, the sophomore and the rest of her teammates were all smiles as the clock struck zero, sending the Broncos into Saturday's state championship game against Lauderdale County at 9 a.m.
The Tigers were responsible for ending Holly Pond’s season in last year’s Northwest Regional final.
Taylor Terry, one of Adam's senior leaders, said she and her teammates would be playing for far more than themselves when they take the floor for the final time this season.
"We want to represent our team and community," she said. "We are playing for our fans, our coaches, Cullman County and the teammates who haven't been able to take part in this this season."
Holcombe led all Broncos with 12 points, while Gambrill and Terry added eight and six, respectively. Rachel Finley netted five, Rowell was good for four and Stephens rounded out the scoring with her lone trey in the second.
Holly Pond will have a chance to complete its fairy tale season in just three days, but for Adams, the season has already been more than he could ever imagine.
"This has all just been a dream come true," he said. " I can't put it into words."
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.