PRATTVILLE -- It was late November when Montgomery Academy’s Gabby Ramirez stepped to the free-throw line with six-tenths of a second left, getting some encouragement from fellow senior Madi Caddell before sinking both free throws to beat Prattville Christian 48-47.
It was only fitting that as Caddell stepped to the free-throw line with 1.7 seconds remaining on Friday night against the Panthers, facing the exact same situation, Ramirez stepped between Caddell and the other players on either side of the lane for a quick word of encouragement that elicited a brief smile from Caddell.
“She came up to me and she was like, ‘Exactly what you said to me last time,’” Caddell said. ‘“Think about exactly what you said to me last time because now it’s you.’ It honestly did (help). I knew it would help her if I encouraged her when it was her doing it. Her coming up to me and saying the same thing really helped me. It was so nerve wracking.”
To make matters worse, as Caddell drained the first attempt to tie the game, Montgomery Academy coach Reg Mantooth called timeout.
“I just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to foul on a miss,” Mantooth explained. “Sometimes when you’ve been fouling and trying to get the ball the whole time and you finally tie it up, I just wanted to make sure they knew that even if she misses, we don’t have to attack the ball again and foul them.”
Caddell stepped back to the line and knocked down the second attempt as well, giving Montgomery Academy a 60-59 win in overtime in the Prattville Christian Academy gym on Friday night.
The win gave Montgomery Academy (15-2) a 3-0 record in 3A Area 5, with each area victory coming in their opponents’ gyms.
“It was a big win,” Mantooth said. “It took a lot of heart and a lot of fight and a lot of effort. It wasn’t real pretty. We just kept fighting to get the win.”
It didn’t come without controversy. The two teams, as they did earlier this season in a pair of tournament meetings, battled evenly through the first quarter before PCA forged ahead, fell behind, then took the lead in the final minute of the game.
MA, which had led by six points with 3:30 left, trailed by five with 57 seconds left as Ramirez made her only shot of the game, a 3 pointer to trim the deficit to a basket. A foul called against Leighton Robertson on a scramble for a loose ball sent Ella Jane Connell to the line with seconds remaining. Connell made the first attempt to put PCA up by three, but missed the second.
Robertson rebounded the miss, sprinted downcourt and pulled up for a shot as the horn sounded. Her shot came after the horn sounded and her right foot was over the 3-point arc, but officials counted the shot as a 3 pointer, sending the game into overtime.
PCA coach Jason Roberson lobbied the officials to overturn the call, to no avail, but neither coach wanted to offer an opinion on whether the shot left Robertson’s hands in time to count.
“I’m not going to say,” Mantooth said.
“I’ll just say it’s unfortunate,” Roberson said.
In overtime, the Panthers surged back ahead with a pair of baskets by Hannah Jones in the paint, but connected on just 3 of 7 from the free-throw line, leaving the Eagles within striking distance.
MA got a basket in the paint from Ann Cobern Chapman and went 6 of 6 at the free-throw line, using four free throws from Robertson and the game-winning pair from Caddell.
The Panthers (17-3) have now lost all three meetings with Montgomery Academy, but defeated everyone else on their schedule.
“They’re competitive,” Roberson said of his players, “but MA is a different level of competitiveness. They have six seniors who know it’s their last go-round. They want to win a state championship really bad. I think our girls want to win a state championship, I’m not sure we want to win it as bad as MA. We had a good lead, up double digits in the first half, and we tend to relax instead of continuing to do what we’re supposed to do.
“It’s kind of like the big sister and the little sister. Sometimes, as a big sister, you let the little sister get the best of you, then you say, ‘I’ve had enough.’ I kind of felt like that’s what was happening (when MA took control midway through the fourth quarter). I was really, really proud of our girls for how they responded to that. I wasn’t sure they had that in them.”
The Panthers kept MA off balance with a triangle-and-two defense that assigned two defenders to Chloe Johnson and Ramirez, the Eagles’ primary ball handlers. Ramirez finished with three points, taking just two shots, while Johnson managed just one field goal and finished with six points, two steals, three assists and two rebounds before fouling out in overtime.
“It was definitely not what we were expecting,” Caddell said. “We prepared for the defenses they could have come out with, but we were not expecting that. But we all have trust in the rest of our teammates. Even though Chloe and Gabby are both central to our team, everyone else on the team plays a huge role and we knew it was going to be OK.”
Robertson had 27 points, nine rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocked shots, followed by Virginia Meacham with eight points.
And while Johnson’s exit in overtime hurt the Montgomery Academy offense, the Panthers suffered a similar blow seconds later when Connell fouled out, leaving the game after scoring 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“I think the difference is MA has multiple ball handlers,” Roberson said. “That’s not to take anything away from Chloe, who is an unbelievable player. And, of course, they’re better when she’s on the floor. But I think they’re better suited to play without somebody like that than we are to play without Ella Jane.”
Jones added 17 points and 12 rebounds for PCA, followed by Avery Rogers with 13 points and CoCo Thomas with eight points and 12 rebounds.
PCA travels to Trinity on Tuesday while MA returns home to play Catholic as both teams continue their quest for the Area 5 regular-season title while trying not to look ahead to the Jan. 26 rematch in the MA gym.
“Our two teams are so competitive with each other,” Caddell said. “They beat us once last year and ever since then, it’s been so competitive. Both teams just really want it bad.”