Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Hoover and Spain Park girls basketball teams battle for the AHSAA state championship title March 4 at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena. The Bucs prevailed over the Jaguars in overtime to take home the state championship.
Over the course of two-and-a-half weeks in late February and early March, the Spain Park High School girls basketball team earned every bit of the nickname that stuck.
The Cardiac Kids.
Urban Dictionary defines the name as “a title given to any sports team that displays a tendency to pick up nail-biting victories.”
After watching Spain Park pull out a last-second thriller against Gadsden City in the Northeast Regional Semifinals and essentially duplicate the feat against McGill-Toolen in the State Semifinals, fans’ nails were already likely completely chewed up.
Then Sarah Ashlee Barker nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to send the State Final game against Hoover to overtime. Anybody with nails left to chew likely had an appointment scheduled with a cardiologist the following week.
Spain Park endured a season of peaks and valleys, playing with some of the top teams throughout the year while suffering some disappointing losses. After a pair of less-than-stellar games in the area tournament, expectations were not high for a postseason run.
But after falling behind 11 early in the fourth quarter to Gadsden City, hope was not lost. The Lady Jags roared back, and Holt tied the game at the end of regulation with a basket and subsequent free throw as Spain Park went on to win in the extra period.
Against McGill, Spain Park once again found itself down 11, this time at the end of the third quarter. Another furious comeback led to overtime, and Holt sank a free throw in the closing seconds to seal the win.
A month prior, Hoover and Spain Park met in the final days of the regular season, with the Lady Bucs coasting to a 66-40 victory. Their meeting in the title game could not have been more different.
Holt exploded for 14 first-half points to give her team a 26-19 lead at the halftime break. Hoover, meanwhile, struggled to generate much offensive rhythm through the first two quarters.
Hoover played much better in the third quarter to close the gap and take a one-point lead into the final period.
“This is about nine points better than we normally are,” head coach Mike Chase recalled saying to his team. “We felt like we were in a good spot. We’ve been playing well in the fourth quarter.”
Although Hoover prevailed in overtime of the Class 7A state championship game, the perspective of how magical the Lady Jags’ postseason run was not lost upon the locker room.
“I know it’s really tough to lose a state championship game, but it’s still a huge deal for us to get here, and it’s a great experience,” said Holt.
“There’s games that you win and beat people by 20, and you yell at them in the locker room, and then there’s games that you lose and you played amazing, and you praise them. I told them I couldn’t be any more proud of this team, how they played, what they represented,” Chase said.