Wednesday October 4th, 2023 7:17AM

STATE FINALS: Lady Leopards fall to Mount Paran in 2A championship

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

MACON, Ga. — Banks County’s first foray to the state championship game did not go the way a huge throng of Leopards fans or coach Steve Shedd had envisioned.

But despite what Shedd called a “disappointing” 67-44 loss to No. 1 Mount Paran Christian on Thursday at the Macon Coliseum in the Class 2A title game, he hopes it will be the first of many more opportunities to come.

“I think this was definitely a growing experience for our program,” Shedd said. “You saw a team (Mount Paran) that has been here before versus a team that had not. I think that can make a little bit of a difference with this whole atmosphere here. It can be a little overwhelming to kids that have never been in this situation.

“So I’m hoping that now that we’ve been here and gotten this experience, I feel like we have the talent that is capable of making it back next year. We have a great core of players coming back and some talented younger girls moving up. We’re going to get started on that as soon as the offseason begins.”

Still, Banks County (28-4) had the early momentum forcing four quick MPC turnovers while grabbing a 4-2 lead behind two free throws and a basket from senior Kamryn Grier. They also got dynamic Mount Paran sophomore Jessica Fields in huge, foul trouble with three in the first six minutes.

However, MPC junior Ciarra Alexander took control in her absence. Alexander dominated the Banks County defense with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and added 3 blocks in the first half.

Alexander sparked a 16-4 Lady Eagles’ run to close out the first quarter, and they led 26-14 with five minutes left in the half. The Lady Leopards finally found some small success on offense as Reese Murphy had a pair of fastbreak baskets, and Addison Hoard converted a steal into a layup to trim the lead to 26-20, igniting the big Banks County crowd.

But Alexander struck for two baskets in a 30-second span to push the lead to 11. Banks County closed the half with a Carley Segars basket to get within 31-22 at the break.

The Mount Paran defense was the story. They held the Lady Leopards without a single 3-point attempt in the opening 16 minutes and outrebounded Banks County 16-9 in the first half. The Lady Eagles (32-1) also shot 52 percent while holding Banks County to 42 percent from the floor.

The Lady Leopards finished just 19-of-51 from the field (37.3%), while MPC shot a blistering 26-of-44 (59.1%) for the game.

“They took away some of our strengths in the first half, and we forced some shots at times,” Shedd said. “But we were able to keep it within single digits by halftime, so we felt like we were still in the game, for sure.”

The Lady Eagles used a 6-0 run to start the third quarter for a 37-22 lead and exploded for an 11-4 run to close out the period to blow it open for a 52-33 advantage. Banks County never recovered.

Isabella Ramirez hit a 3-pointer for MPC, and Alexander converted two easy baskets inside to open the fourth as they eventually led by as many as 32, 67-35. The Lady Leopards never got closer than 23 the rest of the way.

“Mount Paran, especially on the defensive side, was everything we’d thought they would be,” Shedd said. “Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team. They played better than we did today.”

The Lady Eagles did most of their damage inside as Alexander finished with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and had 4 blocks. Fields poured in 19 of her 23 points in the second half and pulled down 9 rebounds to go with 3 blocks. Ramirez had 9 points on three 3-pointers for MPC.

Ryleigh Murphy finished with 14 points, 10 in the second half, to pace Banks County. Hoard had 10 points, and Grier and Segars finished with 8 each. However, Grier, an Emmanuel College-signee, was held to just 2 points in the second half. Reese Murphy had 4 points for the Lady Leopards.

Shedd was hoping they would have put on a slightly better showing for the huge fan base that made the two-hour-plus ride to Macon.

“It just speaks to our community, and it meant a lot to us to have that many people come down here and support us like they did,” Shedd said. “If we can get back next year, I think you’ll see another big turnout. I just wish we could have put on a little better show than we did. 

“We gave (Mount Paran) a game in the first half. But they showed why they are a great team and have won two straight titles. But when you’ve had a taste of it, and you come up a little bit short, it just makes you even more hungry to want to take the big trophy home.”

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports
  • Associated Tags: High school basketball, Banks County girls basketball
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