Carver head coach Anson Hundley had his girls practice what happened to end Saturday’s game against Cross Creek so many times he’d lost count.
Carver led by two with only three seconds remaining in regulation. With an inbound by his Lady Tigers coming, all Hundley could do was watch and wait as Mariah Igus received the in-bound pass. Igus was immediately fouled and headed to the line with 1.9 seconds left on the clock, .
She connected on the first shot. Then the second. And with that, the Lady Tigers were headed to the state championship game.
Igus finished off what was a wild 60-56 victory over the Lady Razorbacks. The Lady Tigers found a way to outlast Cross Creek, led by future Memphis Tiger Alana Davis, and rode a strong finish to yet another rematch with the Lady Blue Devils.
After it was all over, Hundley had his fair share of handshakes and hugs on his trek toward the locker room before he abruptly sat down in a chair on one end of the court. He composed himself for a few minutes, wiping the sweat off his brow after another big win for the Carver program.
It was safe to say Hundley was emotionally spent.
“The biggest thing was just trying to coach them all the way through,” Hundley said. “We got down a bunch of times in that game. We just had to keep believing we could pull it off. We have a lot of young girls who had to go through the process. They did a great job.”
Igus’ free throws to seal the deal were the last plays in several momentous possessions for Carver in the fourth.
Carver and Cross Creek traded the lead throughout the final quarter before Igus’ shot from the field put the Tigers up 56-54 with 1:12 left in the fourth quarter. Mya Millner added to the lead with one free throw with 30 seconds to go, pushing the Lady Tigers’ lead to 57-54.
Cross Creek threatened to match Carver’s score, but Lady Tiger Alycia Reese grabbed the ball from an unexpecting Lady Razorback and was fouled with 15 seconds on the clock. Reese connected on one free throw, making it 58-54.
Cross Creek added a basket with three seconds to play, resulting in a one-possession game. Then came Igus free throws, the final buzzer’s blare and Hundley’s chance to exhale.
The victory featured one of Carver’s toughest assignments yet: slowing down Cross Creek’s Alana Davis. Davis, who will soon be a Memphis Tiger, was practically the entire Lady Razorbacks’ offense in the first quarter, scoring 13 of the team’s 15 points in the first eight minutes.
Davis had a big night, finishing with a game-high 31 points, but the Lady Tigers successfully adjusted as the game wore on and forced Cross Creek to be more creative with their offensive approach.
As the head coach of an undersized team, Hundley had watched Carver take on players of Davis’ stature and ability countless times this season.
“We knew she could get hers,” Hundley said. “We just had to make sure we contained everybody else.”
Carver countered Davis’ ability by utilizing its 3-point shooters, particularly in the third quarter. One of the Lady Tigers’ best periods of play came from its 3-point shooting, as Reese, Igus and Miller hit three 3-pointers to keep the lead within reach.
Their points got the Lady Tigers going and helped Carver hold a 42-40 advantage going into the fourth.
With their fourth game against Columbus coming on Friday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, Hundley and his girls will soon be back to planning and training for the biggest moment of the season. But for Saturday night, it was all about their latest win.
Reese said she cried tears of joy knowing she would play in the state title game. Igus said the locker room after the game was “turnt up”, as the team celebrated one of the biggest accomplishments in program history.
Hundley took the minutes following the game as a chance to let it all soak in.
“We’ve been searching,” Hundley said. “It’s been a long time. This has been our goal, and I didn’t let them forget that. Ultimately, they figured out a way to get to the championship.”