Magical run ends in Macon for Lady Hawks
by Doug Gorman
MACON—The Heritage Lady Hawks’ Cinderella season didn’t have a happy ending Friday night at the GISA Class AAA Final Four in a 50-28 loss to top-ranked Stratford Academy inside the University Center Arena at Mercer University.
The loss spoiled Heritage’s first trip ever to the Final Four and snapped a 17-game winning streak for the Lady Hawks who hadn’t lost since back in January.
Heritage (25-4) suffered two of its four losses this year to Stratford (28-3), which advances to tonight’s Class AAA championship.
For the Lady Hawks, the loss ended the most successful season in school history, one that included a Region 1-AAA title with an undefeated league record before winning twice in at the GISA tournament against Mount De Sales and Southland to reach the state semifinals.
Outsized against an equally athletic Stratford team, Heritage trailed from start to finish, closing to within one point twice in each half on 3-pointers before the Lady Eagles were able to recapture the momentum with a couple of runs.
“It took so much for us to fight back,” Heritage coach Derrick Clay said. “Stratford has so many athletic girls. They are tall and they are physical. They alternated so many of our shoots.”
What impressed Clay the most on Friday was how hard his team played for 32-minutes.
“I am so proud of the way we kept fighting, “he said. Even we we got down by 20 points there was no quit on our girls.”
It was the second time Stratford got the best of the Lady Hawks this season, and like the first meeting, there was nothing the Lady Hawks could do to solve the Lady Eagles’ height advantage, especially when it came to trying to get the ball inside.
Trailing 17-11 at the end of the first half, the Lady Hawks whittled away at the Lady Eagles lead with a basket from Ansley Dieckmann and a 3-pointer from Lillie Smith, who cut the lead to 17-16 with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter, but that was as close as Heritage could get.
Stratford outscored the Lady Hawks 33-12 the rest of the way.
The Lady Eagles pushed the lead to 33-21 heading into the final quarter and put the game away by hitting 10 of 14 free-throw attempts
The loss ended the high school basketball careers for four Heritage seniors including Dieckmann, Abbie Farr, Amanda Windom and Kaytlin Squires.
“I can’t say enough about what these seniors have meant to me and this program,” Clay said. “They are very special.”
Freshman Kara Groover led the Lady Hawks with 12 points in her first trip to the Final Four while the only player in double figures for the Heritage.
Stratford’s Mary Wilson Avant had 17 points while Reese finished with 13.
Both teams suffered through poor shooting performances in the first half that produced just 28 combined points.
The Lady Eagles opened the game with 3-pointers from from Reese and Lucy Bobbitt for a 6-0 lead only to be met by five unanswered from twins Kara and Karlee Groover.
Karlee hit a pair of free throws to get Heritage on the scoreboard and Kara banged home a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one.
However, as they did they entire night, the Lady Eagles found a way to keep the lead.
Baskets by Avant and Kaley Nystrom pushed the lead to 10-5 after one quarter.
Despite the loss, Clay is confident this won’t be Heritage’s last trip to the Final Four.
“The groundwork has been laid,” he said. “We really think we are going to keep coming back.
LADY EAGLES 50, LADY HAWKS 28
HERITAGE 5 6 10 7—28
STRATFORD 10 7 15 18—50
HERITAGE—Karlee Groover 3, Kara Groover 12, Smith 3, Crosby 2, Dieckmann 2, Windom 6
STRATFORD—Reese 13, Avant 17, Bobbitt 7, Nystrom 6, Jarrard 7