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Sunshine advances to finals with overtime win

BIRMINGHAM — After struggling for the better part of three quarters, Sunshine (23-1) flipped a switch at the beginning of the fourth period to ignite a run that forced overtime and eventually ended in a 51-49 Lady Tiger win over Spring Garden in the semi-finals of the Class 1A state tournament. The decisive basket came on a dribble-drive play Sunshine senior guard Shafontaye Myers with 2.3 seconds remaining in overtime.

“I kinda figured it was in,” Myers said bluntly of the shot that extended her varsity career by one more game.

“She forced some shots,” Sunshine head coach Phillip Wagner said of Myers’ performance, which saw her go 12-for-37 from the field. “But you gotta look, fatigue set in. She played the entire game. It was great that she had the strength to put that shot in.”

The culminating series began with just under 38 seconds to go when Myers drove the lane and absorbed a foul with the game tied at 46. The Alabama commit stepped to the charity stripe, stooped over, caught her breath and began a free throw ritual that starts with a hands-folded prayer and ends with the ball spinning in her left hand before she takes the shot with her right. This time, Myers did not get the answer for which she had hoped on either shot as both free throws clanked off the iron.

The latter of the shots caromed off the left side of the iron and into the grasp of Myers’ long-time friend and senior teammate Johnquesha Childs, who fought through a pair of Spring Garden players to grab the rebound and put the shot back up and in to give Sunshine the 48-46 lead.

“If she wasn’t there, we probably would have went down,” Myers said of Childs, who missed most of her sophomore and all of her junior seasons with knee injuries that relegated her to spectator status during Sunshine’s semi-final round exit a season ago. “It’s a blessing to have her this year.”

“I knew it was a critical rebound,” the reserved Childs said of the biggest play of her varsity career.

But as big as that play was, it was not enough to finish off Spring Garden. With 36 seconds remaining, Spring Garden took over possession, pushed the ball the length of the floor and worked it into the hands of Jordan Sides, who promptly drove the lane and drained a shot while being fouled. With the game tied and 17.1 seconds remaining on the clock, Sides drained the ensuing free throw and gave her team a 49-48 lead that silenced the Sunshine crowd as quickly Childs had awoken it.

With the game on the line, Sunshine put the ball into the hands of its leader and trusted her 29.3 point-per-game average to come through one more time. Myers brought the ball up the floor, lowered her shoulder to fight through traffic and put up a lay-in from just a few feet away that ricocheted off the glass and through to put SHS up 50-49 with 2.3 seconds to go. Spring Garden immediately tried to call timeout, drawing a technical foul in the process as it had used its final stoppage earlier in the overtime period during the scramble for a loose ball.

Myers went to the line and began her free throw ritual again, this time connecting on one of the two prayers to stretch the lead to 51-49 only a half second away from a championship date with J.F. Shields.

“You cannot win a state championship with just one ball player. It has to be a team effort,” Wagner said, referring to the work put in by his team Tuesday. While Myers shouldered the burden for much of the season and the majority of the semi-final game, her teammates emerged in the fourth quarter in a way with which even she was surprised.

“They had a different understanding,” Myers said of her teammates’ mentality as they stared at an eight-point deficit after three quarters of play. “They knew eight points was nothing. We all motivated each other.”

The Lady Tigers returned to the floor in the fourth quarter with a different affect than the one they showed through the game’s first three periods of play. Myers and company went to a full-court press that befuddled Spring Garden, igniting a furious 6-0 run that prompted a timeout call by SG just one minute into the period. After the timeout, Sunshine showed more of the same, creating another turnover that led to a three-point play and the Lady Tigers’ first lead of the game.

“I told the girls at halftime, if we could just keep up the pressure, fatigue would set in on us, but it would for sure set in on them,” Wagner said. “I felt like our bench was a little bit better than theirs.” Wagner used eight players in the game while Spring Garden utilized only one reserve.

Myers finished with a game high 31 points to go along with 10 steals and six rebounds. Childs added nine points and eight rebounds while Deborah Lewis added seven points, including a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch.

Spring Garden saw Tara Mullinax lead the way with 24 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Sides finished with 11 points.

The win moves Sunshine to the final round where it will meet J.F. Shields Thursday at 4 p.m. at the BJCC.

“Shields has been here several times,” Wagner said of his team’s next opponent. “They play the same style ball we play. They have one or two great players. (Spring Garden) has five great ball players.”

“We’ve got to go for it,” Myers, whohas played varsity basketball with Childs since the seventh grade, said. “We want it. It’s here. We’ve go to go for it. It’s in our hands. We’ve just got to go for it.”