HOLLY POND —
Holly Pond’s varsity girls knew they were better than the 30-point beatdown they received at Madison Academy earlier in the month.
The Class 3A No. 4 Lady Broncos proved it early Friday evening, returning the favor to the second-ranked Mustangs with a hard-fought 53-48 triumph that electrified the Green and White faithful at Felton Easterwood Gymnasium.
Rachel Finley and Meg Gambrill both scored 13 points, and Natasha Holcombe tacked on a smooth 11 for Holly Pond, which improved to 25-3 with a single regular season game left on the docket. The Broncos have now notched W’s in 19 of their last 20 contests.
The lone loss to Madison Academy (21-8) was a distant memory on Friday, as the Green and White quickly used nine unanswered points to turn a close 9-8 battle into an 18-8 advantage. Holcombe, Finley and Gambrill all had baskets during the game-changing run.
Treys from Finley and Gambrill at the outset of the second quarter pushed the lead to 16 before the Mustangs started chipping away with an 11-1 outburst. Finley came up big in the clutch, however, stealing the momentum — and giving her team a 34-25 cushion — back mere seconds before halftime with a perfect 3-pointer from the right corner.
Gambrill helped stave off another Madison Academy comeback attempt by swishing a buzzer-beating jump shot at the end of the third quarter.
Thanks to a five-point burst from Melissa Clingman, Holly Pond was up by as many as 10 twice in the final frame. The Mustangs wouldn’t go quietly into the night, though, coming within four with 19.5 seconds remaining.
Senior Taylor Rowell stepped in just six seconds later for the Broncos, sinking a pair of free throws to ice the outcome.
The late contributions completed eight-point efforts for Rowell and Clingman.
Sierra Jones scored 22 points for the Mustangs. Markayla Parker had 13.
“We knew it was going to be very tough tonight, and the girls came ready to play,” Green and White coach Scott Adams said. “They followed the defensive gameplan and just worked so hard. It got a little scary there late, but we did enough to win. I thought they really gutted it out. It’s incredible.”
Following a cross-county challenge Monday at Cullman, the road back to Birmingham will begin at home for Holly Pond, which secured hosting rights for its respective area tournament. The Lady Broncos will likely have to get by a boisterous Brindlee Mountain team to reach the sub-state level and earn another contest in their cozy confines.
Should they come out unscathed from all that, next up would be the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State, and, one step later, the Green and White’s ultimate goal — a second straight trip to the state tournament.
“We aren’t taking anything for granted. This is not going to make us think any different about what we do,” Adams said of his squad’s statement victory. “I hope it gives us confidence, but we’re going to keep working just as hard. If we let down and get beat in a game that we feel like we shouldn’t, then this will mean nothing.”
% Madison Academy 78, Holly Pond 75: Even without sophomore sensation Joshua Langford and junior stud Kerryon Johnson, the second-ranked Mustangs are an exceptional squad.
The No. 5 Broncos (19-8) unfortunately found that out the hard way Friday, narrowly dropping a heartbreaker that ultimately wasn’t decided until the last couple of seconds.
The first half was frantic with 14 lead changes and five ties. It didn’t take long to figure the second was going to go Madison Academy’s way, as the visitors jumped out to a 12-point advantage at the end of the third quarter and 15-point lead twice early in the ensuing stanza.
Holly Pond’s Gunter Morris cut the cushion down to 10 with a seven-point spree, and fellow senior Colby Adams followed suit with an identical flurry to trim the deficit to just four.
Quieted early due to three fouls picked up by the 1:39 mark in the first frame, big man Austin Smith made some noise with four consecutive points to bring the score to 72-70 with 1:30 left on the clock. Adams converted a 1-and-1 to make it 74-72 the Broncos’ next offensive possession, and Cody Jones drained his last of four 3’s with 16 second to go to slash the deficit to a single point at 76-75.
The Green and White had their best shot to win the ballgame when the Mustangs’ Alexander Hairston was wayward on the front end of a 1-and-1. Hairston made up for the miss, however, intercepting an ill-advised Holly Pond pass downcourt to all but clinch the rematch.
“We had a lot of chances. We just kept on making a few bad plays that hurt us,” Bronco coach Mitch Morris said. “To come back, battle and have an opportunity to win against a team like this, that says a lot about these guys. We can move forward from that.
“Not that I like losing, but I can handle it when we know we played our best or we played played well. I thought for the most part, except for a little stretch in the third, we did OK.”
With Langford and Johnson both reduced to spectator roles, 6-foot-3 forward Zachary Bogardus played up his size in the paint with a dominant 31-point performance. Hairston was next in line for Madison Academy (16-11) with 20 points.
Langford is expected to return from a recent surgery on his left wrist in time for the postseason. The circumstances are much more dire for Johnson, whose senior campaign on the court came to a premature close after a freak hand injury that also required surgery.
Adams accumulated a team-high 26 points for Holly Pond, trailed by Jones’s 16 and Morris’s 15. Nathan Duke had the hot hand early with two first-quarter treys. Other Green and White scorers were Smith, five points; Dauriel Harwood, four; and John Phillips, three.
Adams and Morris took over a few of the program’s career records in Thursday’s Senior Night victory over Good Hope. Adams snagged the top spot in the 3-point category from his brother, Drew, while Morris became Holly Pond’s all-time leading scorer.
Morris bypassed Tom Easterwood’s mark of 1,597 points set in 1981. Including Friday’s contest, Morris now has 1,615 total points.
Junior Varsity Boys
% Holly Pond 66, Madison Academy 40: A county championship was just the start. A revenge-riddled triumph over the Mustangs was the most fitting of finishes.
Matt Cahoon collected 21 points, and Drew Jones came through with 11, as the Broncos avenged their lone loss — a close four-pointer on the road — with ease to secure a sparkling 21-1 record, the school’s best-ever junior varsity campaign.
The Green and White, which held a commanding 42-9 lead at the half, also received eight points from Dawson Foust and six from Bailey Smith.
“Great win, great season,” coach Mitch Jones. “We got better every week. I’m just very pleased with this bunch.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.