MACON — The Columbus High girls basketball team was within striking distance. After trailing for most of the game, including by double digits at halftime, the Lady Blue Devils were within two of Redan early in the fourth quarter of the Class AAAA state championship game.
Then they lost senior Jacqueria Gunter, the team’s leading scorer in the game, to a knee injury. After that, everything changed.
Redan took advantage of her absence, outscoring Columbus by eight in the final seven minutes and winning the game 63-53. The loss was Columbus’ second state championship loss in the past 11 years. It was Redan’s first win since 2009.
“It hurt,” Columbus coach Joe Cherrone said of Gunter’s absence in the final quarter. “She’s a special player. She’s a senior. When she went down, it hurt.”
Prior to her injury, Gunter had done everything she could to keep Columbus afloat against an undefeated Redan squad that seemed destined for the title throughout the first half.
Coming out of the break, Columbus trailed Redan 40-28. It may have been worse if not for Gunter’s team-high 10 points in the first half. She scored six more during a successful third quarter for the Lady Blue Devils, who cut the Lady Raiders lead to two by the end of the period.
The lead was still two when Gunter went hard to the floor behind the basket a minute into the fourth quarter. She clutched her knee on the ground and trainers had to help lead her to the bench, where she stayed for the remainder of the game.
“I feel for her,” Cherrone said. “She was having a great game. To end your senior season with an injury, that’s tough. But it’s part of life.”
While Gunter’s injury was a big part of the loss, it wasn’t the entire story. Columbus struggled to gain momentum early due to 12 turnovers in the first half. Meanwhile, Redan got a big boost from its impressive perimeter shooters, who hit five of eight from behind the arc before the break.
Senior Destini McClary was particularly efficient in the first two quarters, hitting all four of her three-pointers. Three of those came in the final two minutes, 10 seconds of the half, shortly after Columbus had cut Redan’s lead to 24-20.
By halftime, the Lady Raiders’ lead was back to 12.
“When she gets hot, she gets hot,” Redan coach Jerry Jackson said of McClary, who finished with 16 points, after the game. He also highlighted the play of senior Brea Elmore, who led the team with 20 points.
“She’s one of the best players in the state,” he said. “If they vote for player of the year, and she’s not on it, somebody’s going to be wrong.”
Redan senior Jada Byrd also notched 16 points in the contest.
Jackson said Redan was able to overcome Columbus’ size advantage with a quicker pace of play, which he thinks led to some of their turnovers and Redan’s subsequent offensive opportunities.
While the loss was a disappointing one for the Lady Blue Devils, particularly Gunter and fellow senior Alexia Manning (9 points), Cherrone noted that this won’t be the end of the road. The team is packed with young talent, including freshmen like Tatyana Wyatt, who had 13 rebounds in the game, Ariyah Copeland and Brittany Floyd.
“It’s been a great season,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be here. We look forward to being back here next year.”
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Thursday in Macon
Columbus 12 16 16 9—53
Redan 19 21 6 17—63
Jacqueria Gunter 16, Manning 9, McIntosh 9, Wyatt 5, Lloyd 5, Floyd 5, Copeland 4.
Brea Elmore 20, Jada Byrd 16, Destini McClary 16, Abney 6, Tucker 4, Black 1.
Records: Columbus, 30-2; Redan 34-0.