Sophomore Virginia Poe scored a game-high 23 points, and the second-seeded Golden Eagles turned up the press in the second half to rally from 13 points down and upset top seed Anniston 59-57 in Monday’s girls final in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The victory ended Anniston’s two-year run as county champion and gave Jacksonville (18-4) — the runner-up both times and the sixth-ranked team in Class 4A — its first county title since 2001.
“You know they’re going to be in the championship game, because they’re that good,” Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless said. “They’re going to be there.
“If you get there, you’re going to have to beat Anniston.”
Third-ranked Anniston (23-3), which had won five of the past six county titles, must regroup in the hopes of getting another shot at Jacksonville in the postseason, possibly as early as the sub-regional, but more likely in the Northeast Regional.
“We were looking forward to playing them last year in the regional championship, and we didn’t get a chance to meet them,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said.
Anniston and Jacksonville played in the same area a year ago and appeared headed for a showdown in the regional finals, but area champ Anniston lost in overtime to Oneonta in the semifinals. Jacksonville went on to win the region and state titles.
Reclassification reshuffled things for this school year, and the two teams don’t play in the same area. Monday’s dramatic county final marked their first meeting this season.
The growing high-stakes rivalry filled The Pete with intensity. With guard Evonna Jordan and center Quanetria Bolton leading the way, Anniston seemed to handle it best through the first half and early going in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs took their first lead, 13-12, on a Jordan basket at the six-minute mark of the second quarter, and the lead swelled to 34-21 on Jordan’s two free throws at the four-minute mark of the third.
Jordan finished with a team-high 19 points, and Bolton tied Jacksonville’s Sharon Osterbind in a showdown of post stars with 17 points.
But Jordan, Bolton and KiYana Bullock each picked up her third foul during the middle portion of the game.
“Once we got some people in foul trouble, we had to kind of change some things that we were doing,” Eddie Bullock said. “We weren’t able to get into the offensive sets that we normally do.”
Still, the difference became which team got the biggest pickup from outside the post, and that was Jacksonville with Poe. She hit key 3-pointers against Anniston’s 2-3 zone and came up with key steals and transition layups after Jacksonville turned up the press in the second half.
“Virginia has ice water in her veins,” Chambless said. “She doesn’t see a bad shot. She can really shoot the ball outside.
“We talked about it with her, and we knew they were going to play a lot of zone and she would have some opportunities. She made some, and I think the biggest thing was not her shooting. It was her defense.”
Poe also came up with a team-high three steals and helped Jacksonville shake 25 turnovers out of Anniston, a team that historically wins on pressure and turnovers.
“After last year, we didn’t want to lose again,” Poe said. “We had confidence, and we picked it up and pressed. We had to just get after it on defense.”
Jacksonville roared back to within 39-34 by the end of the third quarter and turned a fast-paced fourth quarter into eight minutes of one-possession basketball.
Darrien Martin put Jacksonville up for good, 55-53, on a 3-pointer with 54.3 seconds left. The basket marked her only points of the game.
After Anniston’s Marticia Jackson missed a baseline jumper, Jacksonville’s Kenyatta Ervin added two free throws to make it 57-53 at 51.4 seconds.
Jordan answered with a baseline jumper to cut Jacksonville’s lead to 57-55 at 36.5 seconds, but Anniston had to foul. Jacksonville’s Angel Kidd made two free throws for a 59-55 Jacksonville lead at 20.6 seconds.
A Bolton putback made it 59-57, and Anniston immediately called timeout at 4.5 seconds but still had to foul. Osterbind missed two free throws, but Anniston didn’t have time to get off a good shot.
Anniston shot 41.2 percent from the floor (21-51), and Jacksonville shot 33 percent (22-66), but turnovers gave the Golden Eagles 15 more shots. Jacksonville wound up with 10 steals.
Ervin finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Bolton had 12 boards.
“This means a lot,” Osterbind said. “We haven’t won county since I’ve been here at all, and so, especially against them. They’re a great team.”
Anniston turns its attention to finishing the regular season strong and getting into position for a possible rematch.
“We’ll use this as a challenge and as a measuring tool for what we need to do at the end of the season,” Eddie Bullock said. “It hurts worse in the regional than it does in the county.
“Of course, I want to win them all, but if I’ve got my choice, I’d rather lose now than in the regional.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.