Story by Griffin Pritchard | Publisher
Photos by Brian Tannehill | Director of Photography
CENTRAL ALABAMA SCOREBOARD OFFICE – Edgewood Coach Jason Fisher saw flashes of greatness in his Wildcats during the summer. At a Troy University Team Camp, Edgewood knocked off a couple of larger AHSAA Schools. But it wasn’t until a come-from-behind win against AAA’s Lee-Scott that he knew.
Fisher: “I knew our girls had the potential to do something special after we beat Lee-Scott at the buzzer. It showed that they all played for each other and trusted each other.”
To better contextualize the importance of this January win – when the Wildcats traveled over to Auburn in late November Lee-Scott put them back on the bus nursing the short side of a 48-22 thumping. With the Warriors visiting the friendly confines, the tale began to be told a different way.
Lee-Scott jumped ahead 13-11 after the first frame. Edgewood answered in the second – going on a 13-5 run to head into the intermission up 24-18.
The Warriors came out on the warpath rattling off 14 and holding the Wildcats to eight to take the lead heading into the final frame. In that fourth quarter, Edgewood answered, winning the game at the buzzer on a heave from Emma Weldon. Weldon took the pass from Lindsey Brown and she just chucked at the rim.
Attitudes changed. Championship aspirations were realized for the Wildcats.
Brown finished the night with 26 points; Weldon (3 points total on a 1-for-4 shooting night) had 3 points that mattered most. Madison Martin, Brown and Kennedy Mensch – on the defensive end – combined to grab 30 of the team’s 39 rebounds.
Fisher: “We really hit our peak after to Lakeside in their tournament’s championship game. After that loss on December 29th, we did not lose again until the last regular-season game at Evangel Montgomery on January 27th. That last loss was something we needed to keep us focused on the goal we set at the beginning of the season.”
During that stretch – win over the Warriors excluded – Edgewood was just shredding their opponents. Starting on January 3, the Wildcats sharpened their claws on Coosa Valley (49-18), Autuaga (50-8 and 55-19), Lowndes, Cornerstone Christian (59-25 and 50-19), Hooper (54-31 and 65-28).
Evangel Christian (Montgomery) ended the streak by scoring a 33-30 win over the Wildcats. But at this point – the Wildcats had rattled off a 6-0 region record and locked up the top seed in the upcoming Elite 8.
Fisher: “Since we drew a bye as a No. 1 seed, I felt pretty confident. We did talk about change and that we would not change our identity. Seeing that we faced Lowndes for the third time, I did tell my girls it’s not going to be handed to us. Coach Marshall from Lowndes and Coach Taylor from South Choctaw (Final Four matchup) had great game plans. But it is like I told my girls during that week off, we were going to do what got us here. We focused our attention on playing havoc-causing defense.”
The University of Arkansas in the 90s called it “40 Minutes of Hell.”
Tomato. Tomahto. It gets the job done.
In the quarterfinal – Jaylyn Strength took over and led the offense, scoring 25 and grabbing 6 boards. Brown – who finished the year with 1,000-plus points scored – added 13 points and 7 boards. Mensch posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. Martin – the sophomore in the middle – grabbed 11 boards. During the stretch run of the game, Martin’s length became the ultimate advantage as she was able to pull down a board and then softball-toss the ball downcourt to one of the scorers.
Fisher: “We had several ladies step up as leaders. Sophomore Lindsey Brown has been our team captain all year. But Jaylyn (a junior) and Kennedy (a senior) booth took leadership roles in the latter part of the season and the postseason. These three ladies made sure we were focused on the task at hand night in and night out. Bot two other leaders who led us another way were Molly Snow (a senior) and Madison (sophomore). These two made sure we were loose and relaxed before each game from playing music to getting the rest of the team to give a concert on the bus. Molly and Madison kept the team relaxed.”
Edgewood defeated Lowndes 53-42 to advance to the Final Four only to find another bunch of Rebels waiting.
The mascot didn’t matter – the result was the same. Edgewood girls had not been this deep into the tournament since Tone Loc was rapping about Spuds McKenzie and Vanilla Ice was hung upside down off a balcony (1990, for those trying to figure out the references).
Edgewood knocked off South Choctaw 46-34 to advance to the black trophy game with Sparta Academy awaiting them.
Fisher: “I do have to acknowledge our bench. These ladies may not have started but they led any way they could – giving the girls on the court encouragement and energy. They deserve a huge shoutout because a team is only as good as its bench and we had the best in the state.”
The bench – in the semifinal – must have been extra fired up because Brown took the game over, torching the Rebels defense for 24 points. Mensch finished with 9 and Martin 6. The trio also accounted for 27 of the Wildcats’ 39 rebounds – grabbing 9 each.
All of this was building – the momentum, the excitement, and the history – for something special to happen in the State Championship game.
Fisher: “I think the state championship was the most complete game we played all year. We executed on both sides of the ball. We forced turnovers when we needed to.”
The Wildcats jumped on the Evergreen-based Warriors 14-11 to start the game and then outscored them 12-6 in the second frame, giving Edgewood a 26-17 lead at intermission. They put the game away by coming out of the break and outscoring Sparta 21-13.
Fisher: “The point I knew we could win this was at a time out after Sparta made a run to cut our lead to 9. I explained at halftime they would make a run and when they did, how we responded to it would define who would win the game. We came out of that time out and left no doubt who we are and who would win the game.”
Edgewood finished the game without ever trailing at the end of a period.
Hannah Salter led the Warriors with 18. Brown (17 and 9 boards), Strength (13), Martin (11and 10 boards) and Snow (9) were able to push the pace all the way to the school’s first girls’ state championship in basketball.
Fisher: “Words cannot express how proud I am of this team. They played together like a family and they will go down in Edgewood Academy history as the first state championship women’s basketball team. This team will go down in my book as the most memorable. They gave me one amazing birthday present and that was a state championship. Going forward, us winning the first-ever state championship for our school, opens up the door for other girls to see that we can win in girls’ basketball at Edgewood.”
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