The fifth-ranked Lady Golden Eagles (30-4) are set to face Andalusia in the AHSAA Class 4A state championship today at noon at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex with a roster which includes just one senior in their starting lineup.
It’s been the play of senior all-state point guard Lacey Buchanon, a Samford signee and Northeast Regional MVP, which has guided them to this point. But the play of her younger teammates has played a key role in bringing fifth-ranked Jacksonville through some of its most crucial points during its run to the title game.
“I look out there and sometimes we’ve got five freshmen on the court,” Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless said following a 53-42 victory against No. 7 Midfield in the semifinals. “We’ve got a good bench. They’ve really improved over the course of the year. This year, I feel pretty good putting those girls in in those situations.”
Chambless was referring to a 3:35 stretch of the first quarter against Midfield when he was forced to sit both Buchanon and junior Sharon Osterbind, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder with two fouls.
During that time, Midfield, in its eighth-straight trip to the Final 48, failed to gain the lead. Reserve post player Tamaria Mays came on and scored on her only shot attempt of the game with 2:25 left in the quarter to knot the score at six, heading into the second.
In the second quarters against Midfield, it was freshman Virginia Poe’s back-to-back 3-pointers and free-throw, all in the final two minutes that gave the Lady Golden Eagles a five-point edge at halftime.
Osterbind took over in the third, scoring nine of her team-best 18 points to go along 12 rebound. Fellow junior Kenyatta Ervin also finished with a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“Everybody looks to try to stop Lacey and they try to stop Sharon,” Chambless said. “But I feel like all those ninth-graders — Kira (Kingston), Virginia and Angel (Kidd) — and Kenyatta too have come a long way. They’ve had opportunities to step up and they have.”
Four Jacksonville players scored at least seven points, including Buchanon’s nine and Poe’s seven, as the Lady Golden Eagles spread the wealth against Midfield. It was a stark contrast to the Lady Patriots who relied, almost exclusively on, senior point guard Jasmine Steele. The Alabama signee scored a game-high 30 points but did so on 11-42 shooting. No one else on her team had more than four points.
“As a coach, one or two people are easier to stop than four or five,” Chambless said. “It’s harder to scheme against a team when you’ve got more scorers.”
In their 51-44 win against previously undefeated Oneonta in the regional final, Kidd scored five huge points on a 3-pointer and a step-back jumper, to give her team some final separation.
Andalusia upset top-ranked Good Hope 62-54 in the other semifinals game to advance.
Chambless said the No. 6 Lady Bulldogs (30-2) are one of the more athletic teams they’ve faced in the playoffs likening them to Childersburg, running a mixture of man and zone defenses.
Be it Buchanon’s 18-point second half against Oneonta or Poe’s or Osterbinds runs against Midfield, someone always seems to step u for the Lady Golden Eagles. They’re the type of timely performance Chambless said is essential for a team to make with championship dreams.
“Everybody contributes,” Chambless said. “And contributing doesn’t always mean scoring 15 or 20 points. It’s when people make plays and take advantage of opportunities when called upon. Everyone has a different role.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He cane be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.