Successful Sunshine season ends with 51-44 loss to McIntosh

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 27, 2006

Once again, the Sunshine Lady Tigers came within seconds of a trip to Birmingham. Once again, however, it just wasn’t meant to be.

A Cortney Lathan basket with 1:24 to play brought Sunshine back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to within one at 45-44, but the McIntosh Lady Demons scored the final six points of Friday’s 1A Southwest Regional final to claim a 51-44 victory. The loss is Sunshine’s second straight heartbreaker in a Regional final after falling 29-27 to Pleasant Home in 2005.

“We’ll just keep knocking on that door until we kick it down,” said Sunshine head coach Phillip Wagner afterwards. “We’ll be back. It was a good game. We played well, they played well. I’m proud of the young ladies.”

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Perhaps most frustrating for the Lady Tigers is that they were in control for much of the game. Senior guard Francesca Bates started the contest with a three-pointer just 20 seconds after the opening tip, and aside from a 23-second second quarter interval in which Sunshine trailed 14-13, the Lady Tigers led throughout the first half and early part of the third quarter.

That lead eventually grew to seven points on two occasions, the first coming at 23-16 on a Lathan basket with 1:39 to play in the first half, and the second at 30-23 on a Jessica Collins jumper with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter.

But the McIntosh fast break that Sunshine had done well in controlling through the game’s first 20 minutes finally broke free. A series of Lady Demon layups cut the lead to 32-31, and after a steal tournament MVP Alexis Broussard scored another just ahead of the third quarter to give McIntosh a sudden 33-32 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Part of the problem, Wagner said, was a questionable charging call against second-leading scorer Shafontaye Myers that saddled her with her fourth foul at the 2:16 mark of the quarter.

“That was the turning point, from my point-of-view,” he said.

Whether by the call or the McIntosh run or both, Sunshine looked rattled to being the fourth quarter as Bates missed on several drives to the basket and several Myers threes were off the mark. But just as McIntosh looked ready to put the game away after going up 45-37 with 3:28 to play, Sunshine responded.

Bates knocked down a pair of free throws at the 2:57 mark, and two possessions later Myers connected on her first three-pointer of the game to trim the lead to 45-42. Sunshine then forced a Lady Demon turnover and capitalized, Sherrena Carter rebounding a Myers miss and feeding Lathan for the basket that cut the lead to one.

But Broussard would go on to make the play of the game for McIntosh. Sunshine fouled Alrica Bell with 57 seconds to play, and Bell made the front end of her one-and-one. She missed the back end, but Broussard grabbed the rebound and scored to make it a two-possession game again at 48-44.

Bates turned the ball over on Sunshine’s next possession and after a Kimberly Davis free throw for McIntosh, Myers and Bates each missed three-pointers with under 30 seconds to play to clinch the McIntosh win.

Bates led Sunshine with 18 points, followed by Myers with 15, Lathan with 6, JohnQuesha Childs with 2, Collins with 2, and Carter with 1. Bates and Myers each finished with double-doubles after grabbing 12 and 13 rebounds, respectively, and each was named to the All-Tournament team.

The loss was especially hard for Bates, the Lady Tiger senior who twice led Sunshine to the brink of the program’s first trip to Birmingham since 2000.

“She’s been a great player for Sunshine,” Wagner said, who will also lose Lathan from this year’s squad. “But we’re a young team. I think youth played a part today. We’ll be back. No one will forget about Sunshine.”