By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
MOUNT PLEASANT – Abria Gulledge sure didn’t act like a freshman in the waning seconds of overtime against Coldwater in Friday’s Division 2-1A Tournament championship game.
In fact her coach, Jason Thompson, counted on it.
Gulledge did not disappoint, calmly taking her team’s inbounds pass with 3.8 seconds remaining in a play specifically drawn up seconds earlier during a timeout.
With the help of a screen to separate herself from defenders, she knocked down the game-winning three-pointer to propel H.W. Byers to an 81-78 win.
“I knew that my team needed me and I was confident I could make the shot,” Gulledge said after her team hoisted her on their shoulders into the locker room.
Her shot clinched the fifth straight division championship for the Lady Lions (24-4), who will host Vardaman on Monday in the first round of the state playoffs.
“I wanted them to give it to her,” said Thompson. “That’s the thing with big-time players in big-time games. I’m not saying it because she’s my player, but it’s my true belief she’s the best ninth grader in the state, especially if she plays like she’s capable.”
Thompson can certainly use tonight as evidence to that claim, but that’s just one example on a growing resume for Gulledge.
As an eighth-grader last season, she knocked down a three-pointer against Sumter County, Ala., in the Newton Classic that sent that game to overtime.
“That shows you have much confidence I have in her. I’m drawing up a play for her and I’ve got a Dandy Dozen on the team,” Thompson said.
It was a fitting finish between the state’s top two 1A teams, with both squads having equal opportunities to put the game away.
Coldwater had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, but Erika Wilkins’ wide-open layup as the clock expired rimmed out, sending the game to overtime.
Jerontay Clemons continued to make big shot after big shot to keep the Lady Cougars (23-7) even with Byers. She eventually tallied a game-high 54 points.
Justice Martin led five double-digit scorers for Byers with 26 points.
(B) Coldwater 70, H.W. Byers 61: The Lions came as close as seven points twice in the fourth, but could not edge any closer.