Mars Hill Bible forward Belle Hill stepped on the biggest stage in Alabama high school basketball and played like a veteran.
She scored a game-high 27 points in 31 minutes. She grabbed eight rebounds. When her team was reeling, she stepped up and boldly grabbed the reigns. Nineteen of her points came in a first half, beginning with Cold Springs High scoring 14 of the first 18 points. She scored inside and outside and hit 11 of 12 from the free-throw line.
By the time she was done with her veteran-like performance, Mars Hill Bible was celebrating a 69-47 AHSAA Class 2A victory over Cold Springs High in Legacy Arena and the BJCC.
Hill was 12 years old when the season began. This season. She turned 13 December and is in the spring semester of her seventh-grade year. Opposing coaches need to settle in for a bunch more headaches while trying to defend the talented young player.
"I'm so proud of Belle," said Mars Hill Bible senior Emma Kate Wright, who signed to play college softball at UNA. "She's in seventh grade, and she acts like she's a senior. She's outstanding. She pushed through the nerves and the stress and everything else. I'm just so proud of her for everything she's done this season. She's been one of the best teammates to have. She's so humble. She's just a great ball player."
Mars Hill Bible needed some kind of spark early in the championship game. Cold Springs led, 18-9 at the end of the first quarter. Hill had eight of her team's points. Hill had 10 of her team's 25 points in the second quarter and Mars Hill Bible had a 34-26 lead.
"I knew we had some nerves," Hill said. "I knew we had to get out of it. We had to finish through it and comfortable."
It certainly gave Mars Hill coach Flori Sweatt comfort to have Hill on the court.
"You can't pass the gym without seeing her mom's car and her getting shots in," Sweatt said. "I don't think there's a day that she misses. Work ethic, that's the definition right here. That's why she's so successful and determined. It's an incredible thing to be a part of."
But this was hardly a one-person show for a team that won the first girls' basketball state championship since 2005. Wright and fellow seniors Ella Embry and Marah Bowerman are the cornerstones of this group. Wright had 16 points on Friday. Sophomore Kaden Rolston had 11 points and nine rebounds.
"It means so very much," Sweatt said. "You see the work, the tears somedays, what we ask of them. Basketball is a great sport. I love basketball. But it's a hard sport to play because you miss out on a lot of things. Thanksgiving, Christmas break. You have to come on the weekends to practice. These girls, they've showed up, every time we asked them to show up. I'm so thankful for them, more than anything."
Aliceville boys 44, St. Luke's 43: Aliceville head coach Christopher Walker nearly left his team's championship Blue Map trophy in the interview room after his team won on Friday. Call it a rookie mistake for a boys' basketball program that won the Class 2A title for the first time.
"We got one," Walker said. "We're just grateful for the opportunity. I've said all year I'll take (on) any group in 2A when we show up. I felt like we're the best group in 2A. We showed it today."
Tyjarian Williams provided the game-winning point when he first the second of two free throws with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. That was just part of a frantic ending.
St. Luke's Mike Myles gave his team a 41-40 lead on a layup with 2:09 remaining. Aliceville scored three consecutive points on a free throw by Jordan Sterling and a jumper by Tyquan Simon. Aliceville carried the 43-41 lead into the final 30 seconds. St. Luke's JT Busby tied the game on two free throws with 23 seconds remaining. That was the only time Busby shot the ball in his 25 minutes on the court.
That set up the final sequence. Aliceville ran the clock down before Simon missed a short jumper. Williams went up in traffic, grabbed the rebound and was fouled while going back up. At that point, he was 1 of 6 from the free throw line. He missed the first one. The second one hit the rim, bounced above the rim and settled into the basket. St. Luke's inbounds pass was intercepted, and the celebration began.
"We had our chances," said St. Luke's head coach Garreth Trawick. "Bounce of the ball, that's how it happens sometimes. Proud of my guys, proud of the grittiness they showed to get to this point."
Clements had control heading into the fourth quarter. The Colts took a 37-29 lead into the final quarter. However, that lead slipped away quickly. The Wildcats scored the first 12 points of the quarter. Emma Kate Smith's 3-pointer with 5:03 left gave Trinity a 39-37 lead, and exactly one minute later, Lilly Smith hit a pair of free throws to build the lead to four points. Eventually, Trinity stretched the lead to eight points before holding on for the win.
Emma Kate Smith led Trinity with 14 points, and four 3-pointers, and Mya Moskowitz added 13 points. Leah Childress had 15 points and seven rebounds for Clements, while Taylor Farrar added 12 points and five rebounds.
Plainview boys 40, Midfield 37: Plainview, known for its up-tempo approach and full-court pressure, switched it up in the Class 3A championship. Plainview head coach Robi Coker elected to turn the game into a grinding halfcourt battle. The reason was simple.
"It was one of those things where we just felt that (Midfield point guard) Shannon Jones was good of a basketball player for us to be able to press and be able to be efficient," said Coker. "We played halfcourt defense. I just can't say enough about this group's toughness."
Great teams find different ways to win, and two of the best teams in the state shared the court in this one. Taking that approach for Plainview meant the Bears had to keep Midfield's Dalvin Dawson from getting in a rhythm. Dawson hit eight 3-pointers in the semifinals and had a game this season where he made 11 3-pointers. On Friday, Dawson made only one of four 3-point attempts.
There wasn't much separation between the teams in the first half. Plainview led 9-7 after the period, and Midfield led 20-16 at halftime.
In the second half, Plainview's Luke Smith took over. He scored 12 of his 18 points after halftime.
Plainview led by five points twice in the final minute. The last time coming after a pair of Jonah Williams free throws with 30 seconds remaining. Midfield got buckets by De'Marreon Baldwin and Jones to cut the deficit to one with just under two seconds left. Williams hit two more free throws, and Midfield was unable to get a shot off at the end.
Prattville Christian girls 76, Priceville 59: Stats don't also lie. Stats, in fact, told an accurate account of what Prattville Christian twin towers CoCo Thomas and Hannah Jones meant to the program's third consecutive state championship.
Thomas, a 5-foot-11 senior, had 29 points and 13 rebounds. Jones, a 6-foot-2 senior, had 23 points and 18 rebounds. Together, they had four more rebounds than a Priceville team built on winning the rebound battle.
"Unbelievable," said Prattville Christian head coach Jason Roberson. "They carried us for a while, production-wise. They were not going to be denied. They're athletic, obviously. They got good size, obviously. I'm going to tell you what. These ladies work so hard. They give unbelievable effort, and they're just so much fun to be around."
Undoubtedly, they were a big part of Priceville's game plan.
"We were playing my daddy's old defense," said Priceville head coach Terrie Nelson. "It's called the cat defense. You basically have a player that's trying to go for the steal into the post. If it gets into the post, you're doing a double team. They were able to bury us in the paint."
Priceville battled to the end but had no answer. Gracin Prater led the Bulldogs with 14 points, seven rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Jacksonville boys 51, Westminster Christian 37: Jacksonville senior John Broom drew the assignment on Westminster Christian standout Chase McCarty. He took it personally, and he delivered an outstanding performance to lead the Golden Eagles to a second consecutive Class 4A title.
"I personally wanted to guard Chase, honestly," said Broom, who will play for South Alabama next season. "He's a great player. D1 on D1 is what everybody wanted to see. I just gave the crowd what they wanted to see."
Broom made life miserable for McCarty from the outset. McCarty, a talented junior, who will have his pick of scholarship offers, had 14 points and five rebounds but never really looked comfortable. He was 5 of 14 from the field, 1 of 5 on 3-pointers and 3 of 4 from the foul line. He also turned the ball over five times.
Broom also excelled on the offensive end. He 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field and 8 of 9 from the free throw line.
"It wears you out guarding Chase because he's such a good player," said Jacksonville coach Tres Buzan. "John, he was up for the challenge. When we went into our scoring report a couple of days ago, he knew he'd have first shot at him. Man, did he do a great job.