Late-game heroics from Kinnersley sends LaGrange Academy to the state championship game
Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Championship game bound.
The LaGrange Academy girls basketball team pulled off a fourth quarter rally on Wednesday to beat Robert Toombs Christian Academy 50-45 to earn a spot in the GIAA Class A state championship game.
The game came down to the waning moments. Down one with under 40 seconds to go, the Warriors dribbled up the court with the fate of their season on the line. LaGrange Academy hearts were in their stomachs as Anna Beth Kinnersley got the ball a step inside the free throw line, turned, took a step to her left and fired away. Lumps formed in the throats of the Warrior fans in attendance at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton as the ball hit the front of the rim, bounced off the backboard and fell kindly through the net to give the Warriors a 45-44 lead. Those lumps in the throats were cleared by a gust of air that turned into a deafening cheer from the large contingent of Warrior fans that made the trip up.
This would not be the final clutch play from Kinnersley, who sunk two clutch free throws with 6.3 seconds left to put the Warriors up three. Those turned out to be the winning points.
“After the third quarter, I was really praying that we would be able to pull through,” Kinnersley said. “We started making our free throws and really hustled to every loose ball in the fourth. It was a team effort.”
To describe Kinnersley’s fourth quarter performance would be to try and describe Leonardo Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa. It was a work of art as the junior put the team on her back with 10 points in the fourth quarter. She hit a tough and-one in the paint with six minutes to go in the game to give the Warriors their first lead of the quarter. With the Warriors trailing 38-36, she once again earned a basketball and foul shot to give the Warriors the lead back. She went to war and grabbed rebound after rebound in the fourth quarter, which also proved to be the difference.
It was not quite Michael Jordan’s flu game of ‘97, but Kinnersley was far from 100% as she battled through a cold that limited her breathing.
“She could hardly breathe, and she sucked it up and played the whole game,” LaGrange Academy coach Ken Klinger said. “She was an absolute monster on the boards. I tell her “every shot is a pass to you.” She took that to heart tonight and got a ton of offensive rebounds for us.”
It was a war to get to that point as LaGrange Academy was pushed in ways that have not been all season. The Warriors lost one game on the road when they were short handed and had to play a stretch of the game with just four players. Coming into this game, all of their wins this season have come by double-digits except for an eight point win over St. George’s on Feb. 3 that was not indicative of how well the Warriors out played their opponents in that game. That was not the case on Wednesday.
“It goes back to how we love one another and work for each other,” Klinger said. “We were not going to let each other down tonight.”
It was a performance that was all heart from the Warriors who trailed by six points heading into the fourth quarter after an uncharacteristically sluggish third quarter. The offense was just as choppy as it had been in the first two quarters for the Warriors, but that vaunted defense they have prided themselves on all season went away in the third quarter as the Warriors were outscored 16-8.
The first half was lacking in offensive quality as the teams adjusted to the bright lights and big stage that The Coliseum in Carrollton presented the teams.
“The moment got to us a little bit,” Klinger said. “We were a bit starstruck with the big arena. I think the depth perception messed with our shooting a little bit, but once we calmed down, and we didn’t calm down until the fourth quarter, we started playing our game.”
“It definitely felt different,” Kinnersley said. “Everything looked a lot bigger. The college three-point line was also throwing our team off.”
The first half saw the Warriors just able to edge out the Crusaders as they took a 17-15 lead into the break.
The Warriors fourth quarter surge was truly remarkable as they scored almost as many points over the final eight minutes (23) than they had during the first 24 minutes (27). It was a true reversal of fortune that shows the character and heart of the team.
“We weren’t going to let each other down,” Klinger said. “We were down six in the fourth quarter, and we stayed poised and kept our cool. It was a true team effort tonight.”
Lost in the shuffle of the heroics from Kinnersley were some outstanding crunch time performances from Tesia Garrett-Hammett and Jazmin Thornton. Garrett-Hammett hit a basket with 1:58 left in the game to tie it at 41 all and again got a tough basket to drop to tie the game at 43 with just over a minute left. She scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter.
Thornton has been a star for the Warriors this season and was relatively subdued on the night with just 12 points but came through when it mattered most. She hit a big three-pointer in the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to just one point and hit three critical free throws down the stretch to push the Warriors over the line.
All the members of the starting five contributed to a memorable playoff win for the Warriors. Laura Knight kept the Warriors in it early and led the team in scoring in the first half with seven points. Kayla McBride only finished with three points but sank a difficult floater in the lane to tie the game at 36 with four minutes left on the clock.
LaGrange Academy is a resounding 21-1 on the season and have won the last 13 games played. To get the 14th in a row and the most important win of the season, the Warriors will have to get through Fullington Academy on Friday at Mercer University in Macon. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
“I told the girls to enjoy this today, but we will get right back after it tomorrow,” Klinger said. “I will probably enjoy this for about 45 minutes then go back to watching film and getting ready for that game.”