Montgomery Academy won its 17th consecutive game and captured the Class 3A Area 5 championship with a 56-42 win over Pike Road Friday night.

But it wasn’t the same domineering Eagles team that has been seen virtually all season. “We were tense in the beginning. We really had the jitters tonight,” MA point guard Gabby Ramirez said. “Pike Road is better than the first of the season. They were the underdogs against Saint James the other night but won. We were nervous about this one and we came out and shot poorly and got off to a slow start.” Ramirez knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early in the game to keep things close after the Patriots came out with high energy and hot shooting hands.

The Eagles uncharacteristically shot less than 50% from the free throw line, and committed 23 turnovers, almost half of which were in the first quarter. “Bad nerves. They were just really nervous,” MA coach Barry Fencher said. “They were jittery and were pressing and making turnovers right and left. Some of that lasted through the whole game. This is a very, very young team.”

The jitters probably played a role in Leighton Robertson and Margaret Head getting into early foul trouble. Robertson is the team’s leading scorer and Head is the Eagles’ inside muscle and the lone senior. After getting into foul trouble Robertson and Head rode the bench for the majority of the first half.

The personnel change on the floor proved that the Eagles have plenty of depth. Ann Chapman, Julia Williams and Madi Caddell came into the game to get things done. It was Caddell that made two late shots that actually gave MA a 26-24 lead at halftime and established momentum for the Eagles. “I feel good about our depth. Chapman, Williams and Caddell came in and played good for us. I honestly feel this game will make us tougher. They took their best shot and we were forced to play another level. We had to come back and get the lead and that was even a bigger task with Margaret and Leighton on the bench early,” Fencher said.

Pike Road trailed from the opening inbound in the second half but would never go away. The Patriots would come back and narrow the gap twice in the second half before MA pulled away for good. Late in the game Head proved her importance by making key rebounds in the offensive end.

Pike Road made 26 turnovers in the game. The Patriots were led by Sheria Clements with 20 points followed by Aaliyah Manora with 8 points.

Caddell led MA with 17 points. Head notched 11 points and 10 rebounds. Ramirez scored 9 points and made 4 assists. Robertson tallied 8 points and 6 rebounds. Anaya Thomas had 10 rebounds and Millie Stevenson had 8 rebounds.

“For us to win we just got to avoid the nerves. We just need to play at a hot pace and keep the pressure on our opponent. That’s when we are at our best,” Ramirez said.

“You know Pike Road took it to us tonight and they are a good team that is improving. I think there is a good chance we will see them again and we will need to play better than we did tonight,” Fencher said.

MA, now 27-2, will host Beulah in the sub-regional game Monday night.