The McEachern Indians entered the Georgia 5A Championship game with much on the line. They had a shot at the schools first ever championship, undefeated season, and a shot at a national title as they are ranked in the Top 5 in several national polls including the ESPN Powerade Fab 50 and USA Today Super 25 among others.
After the dust settled the Lady Indians would be the 5A State Champion with a 69-36 win over crosstown and region rival Hillgrove. It was their seventh consecutive win over Hillgrove and fourth this season. Two goals have been reached, an undefeated season finishing 33-0 and a state title, now they must await the judgement of the press to see if they will also claim a National Championship.
McEachern jumped on Hillgrove from the opening tap racing out to an 13-0 lead in the opening quarter. At the 2:56 mark Hillgrove’s reserve center Tiffany Schick scored the Lady Hawks first hoop on an offensive rebound and put back. McEachern would hold tight and finish the quarter with a 20-7 lead after Hillgrove’s Celina Rodrigo would nail a buzzer beating trey from just inside of half-court. Much of the same would ensure in the second quarter as McEachern took a 37-18 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter Hillgrove was out to prove they were not going to go out without a fight as they held McEachern to only 6 points in the quarter while putting up 13 of their own in their highest scoring quarter of the night while doing their best to shift momentum for a rally.
At the start of the fourth the Lady Indians regained focus and form and used a 9-1 run to race out to a 20 point advantage with a 52-32 lead with 2:02 gone by in the fourth. The Indians would finish the drill and hold Hillgrove to only five fourth quarter points using their trademark tenacious defense. Both team would begin to empty their bench as the 3 minute mark neared, Hillgrove first in hockey style fashion and McEachern one by one.
After the final horn sounded the Lady Indians embraced their fans, who were the loudest of any student body over the 3 days at the Arena at Gwinnett Center during the semifinals and finals. Dominique Wilson led McEachern in scoring with 17 points, Pachiyanna Roberts tallied a double-double with 16 points and 10-plus rebounds and freshman standout Te’a Cooper who is already committed to North Carolina finished with 11. Senior Celina Rodrigo led Hillgrove with 17 points while sophomore sensation Mackenzie Engram finished with only 7 points a night after tallying 20 against North Gwinnett. McEachern yielded only 16 points in the Final Four to Norcross’ top scorer Diamond DeShields (9 points in the semifinals) and Hillgrove’s Engram (7 points in the finals).
When asked how did it feel to go 33-0 and win the championship game by 33 points, McEachern head coach Phyllis Arthur replied, “Wow that’s awesome, I thought we won by 34 but that’s cool that we won by 33”.
Yes by 33 points in a season where you finished 33-0, fitting to say the least. Can you really hold it against a coach to not know the point differential when they have just won a state championship by so many points, nope you sure can’t. For a coach who believes in her players and has a strong support system with everything falling into place.
“I believe these players are the best”, Arthur stated.
Arthur is 146-35 in her six seasons at McEachern with an undefeated season and state championship under her belt.
The reloading period begins now as McEachern will lose stars in Roberts, Wilson, Clemson commit Kayla Montgomery and Destinie Gibbs (6 points in Title game) . The set of Coopers (Mia and Te’a) and Joclyn Ramos will be back to defend and lead a youthful but talented squad.
Hillgrove will enter next season with a new coach as Sheryl Fowler will step down after six seasons. Fowler built the Hillgrove program from scratch six seasons ago and finishes 141-33 with a Final Four and Elite Eight appearance in her final two seasons, the previous four they competed in Class 4A making the state tournament all four years, losing to Mays and Madison County in the state tournament during those seasons.