Ashley Stanley wasn’t worried.
Sure, Good Hope High was struggling. And yes, points were hard to come by.
But the drought wasn’t going to last forever. Not with the open looks Good Hope was creating on the perimeter.
Turns out Stanley was right.
After getting held to a season-low two points in the first period, second-ranked (4A) Good Hope (24-2) nailed five 3-pointers in the second, building a lead the Raiders would not relinquish on their way to a 45-32 win over No. 8 (3A) Holly Pond (17-9) in the championship game of the Cullman County tournament Saturday night.
“Our coaches are always telling us that if we can get a little bit of penetration, we’ll get open looks (on the perimeter),” Stanley said. “We came out a little tight. It’s obvious we were pretty nervous.
“But we kind of slowed down, focused on defense and finally started hitting some shots.”
Neither team could get a shot to fall in the first period.
Holly Pond guard Haley Terry made the game’s first field goal at the 2:12 mark, giving the Broncos a 3-0 lead.
But Good Hope finally found its mojo. Trailing 7-2 after one quarter, Kayla Tillman opened the second with a 3-pointer. Nina Mills followed with another, sparking a 15-5 run by the Raiders.
“We finally started hitting a few shots, which was huge for us because it allowed us to set up our (full-court) press,” Raiders coach Michael Oldacre said. “We had some adversity there at first, but we played through it. And as the game went on, we had been in some situations like that before, so I felt like if we could just play through and play good defense we’d be alright.”
After carrying a slim 19-15 advantage into halftime, Good Hope rallied to a double-figure cushion in the third period.
Courtney Deese pulled Holly Pond within three with a 3-pointer, but Tillman countered with a trey of her own.
Stanley and Elizabeth Hardin followed suit, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to give Good Hope a 30-20 lead.
Holly Pond clawed its way back into contention in the fourth period. The Broncos used a stiff defensive effort to mount an 8-3 run.
Terry made a runner to pull Holly Pond within four and her sister, Taylor, knocked down a free throw to cut the deficit to 33-30 with 2:35 remaining.
“It was a very physical game, especially down low (under the basket),” Good Hope forward Kayla Elrod said. “When you’re only 5-foot-7 down there fighting for position with girls who are taller and stronger than you, it’s tough. But we just kept fighting and found a way to win.”
Indeed. Good Hope would not be denied its first Cullman County title since 2004.
Tillman made a jumper to run Good Hope’s lead to five with 1:29 remaining, and the Raiders were a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line in the closing minute.
“Holly Pond is a very physical, very talented, well-coached team,” Oldacre said. “And to beat a team like that in a championship game, it’s not easy. But I’m proud of our girls. They played hard and stuck with what we were trying to do. Winning a physical game like that is a testament to them.”
Tillman led Good Hope with 15 points, while Elrod, Hardin and Mills had eight each.
Terry and Kelsey Hawkins led Holly Pond with nine points each.
Good Hope may have won the championship — and the hardware that goes along with it — but the Raiders’ celebration was somewhat subdued.
Stanley said there’s a reason for that.
“We’ve still got bigger goals that we want to achieve,” she said. “Yeah, (winning a county title) is a great experience, but we don’t want to be satisfied with just this. There’s still a lot more we want to accomplish.”
Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at email@example.com.