Usually when Prattville Christian lands the first blow, the opponent goes down for the count.
34 straight times the Panthers punched their foe first and each time the opposition failed to get up.
However, PCA discovered its 35th opponent had an excellent counterpunch.
On Friday, Kristen Emerson and her Panthers teammates threw their best combination at top-ranked Woodland to no avail, dropping a 64-53 decision in the Class 2A girls state championship game.
“We jump out on people, and a lot of people don’t respond in a positive way to that,” PCA coach Jason Roberson said. “When you’re playing Woodland, which has played in the state championship before, they fought back like champions.”
“Their resiliency to come back with a run of their own when we got out on them probably was the difference in the game.”
For PCA, the dream of completing an undefeated season fell just one game shy. The Panthers — who are in their inaugural campaign in the AHSAA — were aiming to become the first girls team to end the season with an unblemished record since J.F. Shields in 2010.
“We came up here and had a blast,” said Emerson, who finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in her final high school game. “It was a lot of fun playing with these girls. We were able to play in the last game, which is all I ever asked for.”
It wasn’t just the close to an unbelievable run, the loss also marked the end of the Emerson era. She has signed to play for Troy.
“What everybody got to see today, I got to see all year,” Roberson said. “She is an unbelievable basketball player. Anybody who watched that game, after watching her play had to be like, Wow! 37 points … against the best 2A team in the state is a pretty good game.”
The Panthers (34-1) landed the initial blow. Behind Emerson, PCA got out to an 11-4 lead and had a 10-4 surge a period later, but the scoreboard only flashed 25-25 at halftime.
Woodland’s third-quarter 15-0 burst proved to be the major blow to PCA’s title hopes. Tournament MVP Leah Strain and Jaide Walker combined for 11 points in the game-changing run to make it 42-30 in the closing seconds of the third.
“We adjusted our press at halftime and we started getting some steals,” said Strain, who had 29 points and 10 boards. “I think that shook them up a little bit. We started hitting some shots, then we were able to make them play our tempo instead of having to adjust to theirs.”
Roberson said the team’s disappointing seven-point third quarter was too much to overcome against team of Woodland’s caliber.
The Panthers shot just 34 percent (8-of-23) and committed 10 of their 19 turnovers after the break.
Walker scored 16 points and Shalyn Strain chipped in 10 and five steals for the Bobcats (34-2), who captured their first state championship. Woodland could be back in the title chase in 2014, with four starters returning for coach Larry Strain.
“We were fighting at the beginning of quarters. … We were here to win this game,” Roberson said. “But it tells me a lot about Woodland. Their resiliency and the way they fought back to countered our runs with more significant runs.
“The third quarter hurt us when we got down double figures.”