BIRMINGHAM — It had been a dream season for coach Scott Adams and the Holly Pond girls basketball team leading into their state final matchup against Lauderdale County, but unfortunately for Adams and his squad, they awoke just a moment too soon.
The No. 7 Lady Broncos came up short in their bid for the school's first-ever state championship, falling to the No. 2 Tigers 59-41 on Saturday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
"What a program," Adams said of Lauderdale County (33-5). "They are an incredibly talented team. My hat goes off to coach (Brant) Llewellyn. If you are going to lose, it might as well be to the best."
The Tigers came out with a roar, scoring on their first six possessions to race out to a 15-2 advantage.
"That was like a knockout punch to us early," Adams said. "It put us on our heels a little bit, and we were kind of wondering when the bleeding would stop. I don't think they could have played any better in that quarter."
Holly Pond (29-6), backed by Rachel Finley's seven first-quarter points, fought back toward the end of the frame and trailed 21-13 heading into the second quarter.
Things didn't get better, though, as the Tigers outscored the Broncos 15-8 in the eight-minute stretch, using a full-court press to garner turnovers that fueled their run.
"We knew their press was going to be tough," Adams said. "No. 1 on our list heading into this game was breaking their press. There were some times we didn't, and it was crucial. We made some mistakes on it, but I thought we handled it pretty well overall."
Ivy Wallen scored 17 first-half points for Lauderdale County and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the field as well.
"What can you do?" Adams said of Wallen. "We had to play one-on-one the whole game. We couldn't help off because it would just end up being a layup for them. With her and Chatara Cox, it's almost impossible to defend them."
The Tigers took advantage of Holly Pond's poor shooting in the third quarter, using 3-point baskets — one from Ivy Wallen and two from Haley Avery — to extend their cushion to 22 heading into the final eight minutes.
"We just couldn't get a shot to fall in that third quarter," Adams said.
The Broncos fought hard to the very end with Taylor Terry pouring in eight fourth-quarter pointers, but they could only cut the deficit to 15.
"I'm so proud of our will and our determination," Adams said. "We got down, but I knew our team was going to make them play a full game."
Taylor finished with 15 points to lead her team, while Finley netted 10. Terry and Meg Gambrill, seven points, were named to the All-State Tournament Team. Natasha Holcombe chipped in with six points, and Taylor Rowell was good for three.
Gambrill said she was extremely proud to be associated with her team and with Holly Pond.
"It's amazing really," she said. "I wouldn't want to be with anybody else but this school. The journey up here was amazing. The memories created were amazing. All in all, it's just a game. There's more important things. It's amazing to be with this team and have this experience that not very many get to have."
Adams echoed Gambrill's sentiments about his town.
"Even if it means losing, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said. "It's been an incredible two weeks. I love Holly Pond, and I love the community."
Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the Broncos have had a storied season most teams never get to enjoy.
Holly Pond reached a state final for the first time in any sport, and its 29 wins are the most ever for a girls or boys Green and White basketball team. The Lady Broncos also won their first Cullman County championship since 1997.
"Our girls worked extremely hard all season long," Adams said. "They're special. I knew coming into the season they had a chance to be good. We became a tremendous defensive team as the year progressed. There were just so many special moments with this team this season. I'm so proud of them."
The admiration the coach has for his players is certainly reciprocated. Terry, playing in her final game as a Bronco, said Adams is not only a wonderful coach but a great person as well.
"Coach Adams is a great Christian leader and he's a great coach," she said. "He always tries to prepare us our best. We fought hard. Just came up short today."
Cox took home All-Tournament MVP honors with her 11-point performance, while teammate Ivy Wallen also earned All-Tourney honors. Brittany Driver (Straughn) and Gabby Nicholson (Midfield) rounded out the honorary squad.