Lady Tigers fall in championship game
Sunshine got as close as five points in the fourth quarter, but the combination of April Montgomery and Tyika Robinson proved too much for the Lady Tigers during a 56-43 loss to J.F. Shields in the Class 1A state title game Thursday.
“It was a really great, great ball game,” Sunshine head coach Phillip Wagner said. “We were nervous and we did not play our best ball game.”
Sunshine opened the game well as star guard Shafontaye Myers showed off her prolific scoring ability in the game’s first period, embarking on a personal 9-0 run while connecting on four of her first five shots from the field. The spurt gave Sunshine a 9-3 lead and prompted J.F. Shields coach Herbert Blackmon to reevaluate his defensive approach.
“We knew (Myers) was a good ball player,” Blackmon said. “She got off in the first two or three minutes. Then we went to a box-and-one and that really didn’t work. So we spied her with a couple of girls.”
The latter approach worked for the Lady Panthers as J.F. Shields often had two defenders in close proximity to Myers even when the Alabama commit did not have the basketball.
“They were coming at me from the beginning to the end,” a tearful Myers said following the game.
That approach limited Myers’ scoring to just nine points from the field for the duration of the game.
The defensive philosophy coupled with the offensive prowess of Montgomery and Robinson enabled to Shields to take a lead it would not lose with 1:29 to play in the second quarter. Fittingly, the shot that put the Lady Panthers in front to stay came in the form of a free throw by Robinson, the diminutive point guard whose fearless play and ability to get to the rim seemingly at will led to a 29-point performance and the Class 1A Final 48 MVP award.
“They are good,” Myers in reference to Montgomery and Robinson, who combined to outscore the entire Sunshine roster 44-43. “We coulda stopped them, but we didn’t.”
“We couldn’t hit the shots,” Wagner said simply. “We couldn’t get the ball on the inside and they did.”
Sunshine’s offensive struggles continued well into the second half. Still, with 7:29 to play in the game, Johnquesha Childs connected on a jumper that cut the deficit to five. The shot also made Childs only the third Sunshine player to score in the game as the team’s first 32 points came from Myers and Lacresha Rainer.
“She had a great game tonight,” Wagner said of Rainer, the junior forward upon whose emergence the long-time SHS coach has awaited all season. “She’ll be back. She sees now what hard work will do for you.”
“I had a talk with my brother and he was telling me I needed to step up and give Shafontaye a little more help with the scoring,” Rainer, who had 14 points and earned all-tournament honors, said. “So I had to pray about it and figure out what I needed to do to help us win. It all came from God.”
When Sunshine switched to its press and cut a 12-point lead to five, Shields put the ball back in the hands of Robinson.
“(Robinson) did a good job of breaking (our press) and we just didn’t have enough energy to get in front of her and stop her from getting to the lane,” Wagner said. “They just wanted it a little bit more than we did.”
A Sunshine free throw with 1:18 to go in the game made the score 55-43 and marked the final point in the sterling high school career of Myers.
“Taye meant the world to Sunshine,” Wagner said of the guard who started her varsity career in the seventh grade and punctuated it with a 26-point, 12-rebound performance and all-tournament honors. “I’ve been coaching 33 years and I’ve never seen a player prepare herself and work as hard as Shafontaye Myers. It’s an old saying my mother used to say, ‘Every bird has to fly away from the nest.’ And it is (Myers’) time to fly away.”
“It means a whole lot,” Myers said of her time at Sunshine, a career she opted to prolong despite assorted opportunities to play at other schools and in other states. “I just thank God for this opportunity to be a Lady Tiger. In the end, we didn’t win it all, but I’m glad I had my teammates.”