After the clock struck zero, Ansley and Ashley Whitley carried each other, arms around shoulders, two acting as one.
Cramps were getting the best of them. But the Calhoun County Cougars couldn’t.
Marion County (28-1, 14-0) won its first-ever girls state basketball title Wednesday, beating Calhoun County 50-38 in the GHSA-A public girls championship.
“It’s like winning the Super Bowl for your hometown,” said Ansley. “You’ll never live it down. They’re just going to keep [saying], ‘Remember when in 2019 when you won state?’”
Marion County fans came out in full force to see the Whitleys carry each other, both off and on the court. Ansley scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Ashley tabbed 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The two have strong chemistry on the court — they’re twins, after all.
“We don’t touch each other often because we’re so competitive, but I’m glad she helped carry me [off the court] out there,” Ansley said. “It’s just like in the game. We carry each other on the court, too.”
The Whitleys, seniors, have grown before the eyes of head coach Fran McPherson — both literally and figuratively. McPherson said when the girls arrived, they were 5-foot-7 and looked like they were third graders.
They are now 6-foot-1 and look a little more like seniors in high school.
“They’re posts who can handle the ball,” McPherson said. “At the end even through cramps, they were stalling the ball, running out the clock. You don’t see a lot of posts being able to do that.”
Something else fans don’t see too often either: a stat line of 21 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks per game. Those were Ansley’s season averages before the state championship game.
She didn’t quite reach her season-average rebound total, but her 20 points were fueled by a 12-of-14 outing from the free throw line.
McPherson also praised Ansley and Ashley for their leadership on and off the court, whether it be teaching other girls how to shoot or pushing the team in the weight room.
That leadership was evident in the championship, as was the team’s experience from last year. The Eagles played in the state title last year but fell to Greenville 73-52.
“When we left, it was just the most horrible feeling,” McPherson said. “I think [that] fueled our whole season.”
A season McPherson calls “perfect,” despite one blemish on the schedule: a 6-point loss to the team who beat them in the final last year.
Greenville beat the Eagles in the region championship game, but McPherson said the twins battled cramps throughout that game and could barely stay on the court.
Injuries tried to cramp the twins’ style again in the state title game, but the team had built a large enough 12-point lead at halftime to hold off Calhoun County.
“It’s a good send off,” Ansley said. She and her sister are committed to play softball at Virginia Tech.
“I feel like I’m doing it for my community, not for myself, but for my team and for my community,” Ansley said. “It’s a big thing to me. I like helping others.”