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January 31, 2014

PREP BASKETBALL: No. 4 Lady Broncos avenge earlier loss, down No. 2 Mustangs 53-48; Boys fall in heartbreaker

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.”

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