The Briarwood Academy Lady Bucs ended one of the most successful seasons in Lady Bucs' basketball history, if not the most successful season, when they suffered their only defeat of the year in the GISA AA semi-finals to Pinewood Christian School of Bellville last Thursday at the Centennial Center at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
Basketball fans considered that semi-final game to be the final as it was between the only two undefeated teams in the state competition -- Briarwood, 25-0, Region 1AA's number one team, and Pinewood, 28-0, Region 2AA's number one team. The other semi-final was played between the number three teams from both regions -- Region 1's Gatewood School of Eatonton and Region 2's Trinity Christian School of Dublin. The Lady Bucs beat Gatewood twice during the regular season while Pinewood beat Trinity three times.
Pinewood went on to win the AA state championship for the third consecutive year with a 29-point victory, 59-30, over Trinity in Saturday's final. Trinity edged out Gatewood 43-36 in their semi-final bracket.
"It was a hard fought ball game between two outstanding teams," Coach Clayton Parrish said of the game in which the Lady Bucs came up short by 13 points, 48-35, mainly because of Pinewood's free throw shooting late in the fourth. "It's disappointing to lose a ball game like that, but, eventually, with time, the girls will realize they had a special season, and the seniors had wonderful careers."
Six players are gradating from the Lady Bucs this year.
Fatigue played much more of a role than originally anticipated as the Lady Bucs, who led throughout most of the first half and were down by only four at the end of the third, began to visibly give out in the third.
Pinewood's height also proved a problem for the Lady Bucs whose defenders have shut down most teams' inside games this season.
"They hurt us more inside than I anticipated," Coach Parrish said. "They were able to get the ball inside and take the best shots."
Additionally, that height helped put a damper on the Lady Bucs' inside game.
"We missed some shots we haven't missed all year," Coach Parrish said. "You have to play about as close to a perfect game as you can play against a team like Pinewood."
The Lady Bucs took command of the floor the minute they took it, ending the first quarter with a 17-7 lead.
"We were playing the two-time state champions with a three-year record of 93-2, and we were not intimidated," Coach Parrish said.
Pinewood's numbers and depth proved to be their major advantage as they were able to substitute more often than the Lady Bucs in the game between two teams, both of whom's trademark was the full court press. The Lady Bucs' leading scorer, Anne Wills, who rarely left the floor throughout the season, was double-teamed the entire game by rotating defenders.
Pinewood outscored the Lady Bucs 17-10 in the second quarter to narrow the Lady Bucs halftime lead to three points, 27-24, and then outscored them by seven in the third to take a 34-30 lead by the end of the quarter.
"They just wore us down physically," Coach Parrish said. "We were worn out. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, and they capitalized on it. The turnovers that we made were fatigue turnovers. "
As the game moved into the fourth quarter and Pinewood was up by six with only three minutes left to play, the Lady Bucs were forced to foul to try to recapture the lead, and it backfired as the Pinewood girls hit 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth.
"It was not a coincidence that their best free throw shooter was eight-for-eight from the free throw line in the fourth," Coach Parrish said. "They did a great job of getting the ball to her.
"If we had had a six point lead with three minutes to go, I feel like we could have gotten to the free throw line and won by 13," he said.
Senior Anne Wills led the Lady Bucs with 11 points, "quite an accomplishment" against Pinewood, according to Coach Parrish. Junior Katie Reese scored eight points, while seniors Ashley Pickard and Mallory Jo Bradshaw finished with six points each.
In addition to Wills, Bradshaw and Pickard, seniors Blythe Ansley, Alyssa Sutton and Leslie Lynam also finished their careers as Lady Bucs.
"It's been a real pleasure to coach these girls," he said. "That's why you get into coaching -- to coach a team like I had this year. Not because of the record, but because of the hard work they showed, the teamwork, the camaraderie. It's been a really fun year."
Wills, who played for the Lady Bucs since the eighth grade, ended her career as the Lady Bucs all time leading scorer with 1996 points, just four points shy of 2,000 points scored.
She hit 70 percent of her foul shots this season and had 133 assists going into the Pinewood game, 80 more than the next closest player.