Photo: The Sardis High girls basketball team celebrates after winning the program’s first-ever Etowah County Schools championship on January 21 at Gaston. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
In a season chock full of “firsts,” the Sardis girls basketball team notched a big one on January 21 at Gaston.
The Class 5A No. 7 Lady Lions (22-5) defeated Class 3A No. 10 Hokes Bluff, 53-47, to win the program’s first-ever Etowah County Schools championship.
The title came after the team won its first regular season area title, its first victory over Sand Mountain rival Boaz for the first time in 20 years and its first 20-win season.
The Sardis defense was a key factor down the stretch, holding the Lady Eagles (13-7) to three field goals during the fourth quarter.
Eight out of the 11 Sardis players listed in the book scored, led by Tournament MVP Caroline Johnson with 11 points. Mckenzie Cullom added nine points, followed by Jayda Lacks with eight and Kaylen Wallace with seven.
Although this is Heath Cullom’s first season as varsity head coach, he knows the current group very well, as he coached the program’s middle and junior high girls for several years.
“This is very special group, especially because my daughter is a senior and I’ve known these girls basically since they started playing sports,” he said. “This year has been a great one for Sardis girls basketball.”
Cullom acknowledged how tough it was to beat the defending county champions.
“Coach [Evan] Talbot does a great job. [Hokes Bluff was] ready to play, and it was a hard-fought game. Both teams threw their share of punches, and we were lucky to come out on top at the end.”
Cullom said the Lady Lions were fortunate to win after scoring only twice from the field during the final period.
“We started watching the scoreboard instead of just playing basketball, and we struggled to finish,” he said. “But all’s well that ends well.”
Kileigh Blackwell paced Hokes Bluff with 15 points, while Kayla Traylor added 11. Bailee Latronico chipped in seven points.
The game was knotted at 15-15 following a back-and-forth first quarter. The Lady Lions gained a small cushion and a double-digit lead in the second frame after two straight 3-point baskets by Johnson. However, Hokes Bluff responded with a 10-0 run to tie the game at 25-25. Sardis closed out the first half with a 7-2 spurt, with Sidney Rutledge’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer sending the Lady Lions into halftime up 32-27.
Sardis stretched its lead to 11 points late in the third quarter before the Lady Eagles battled back within 47-36 after 32 minutes.
Hokes Bluff stayed within single digits for most of the final period and wound up scoring the final five points of the game, but the Lady Lions held on to make program history.
Joining Johnson on the all-tournament team were Lacks, Wallace and Cullum from Sardis; Blackwell, Latronico and Hale Davenport from Hokes Bluff; Hope Jenkins from West End; Sara Kate Yancey and Madison Shaw from Southside; Jaxson Sizemore from Glencoe; and Traci Jones and Lily Lewis from Gaston.