Virginia Barber couldn’t avoid looking at it and neither could senior Daniele Ewert.
It was less than four minutes left, and time appeared to be running out for Prattville in Thursday’s Class 6A girls subregional basketball game with Oak Mountain.
With 3:32 left in the fourth quarter, the scoreboard flashed: Oak Mountain 55, Prattville 45.
But instead of going into panic mode, Barber commonly asked for her squad to “buckle down” and play “the best defense” of their careers.
“We’ve always came back in the fourth quarter strong,” Ewert said. “That’s probably the best quarter that we play. When you think teams would be tired by the fourth quarter, we’re not. Our adrenaline just takes over, and we make the run.”
And boy, did they make a surge.
The scrappy Lions banded together on defense to erase a 10-point deficit, and freshman Aaliyah Holmes buried the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to complete a 63-61 come-from-behind victory over Oak Mountain.
Prattville advances to the Central Regional for the first time since 2000. The Lions (20-8) will face Jeff Davis on Wednesday at Alabama State’s Acadome at noon.
“I am so proud of this group,” said Barber, Prattville head coach.
Holmes — who had just four points entering the fourth — torched the Eagles for 11 points over the final 2:32. The guard connected on a pair of free throws to give Prattville its first advantage of the contest at 59-58 with 40 seconds to go.
“We told her in the timeouts during the third quarter that we needed her,” said Barber, who also got 18 points from Jae Patterson. “We’ve relied on her all year, and we needed her to step up and control the game. Just like a quarterback in football, we needed her to control the basketball game and she did.”
Oak Mountain’s Madison Pierce converted in the paint, and Holmes split at the line to lock the scoreboard at 60 apiece, setting the stage for the freshman’s clutch shot. After stopping the Eagles, Holmes drilled a dagger from the top of the key in front of a frantic home crowd.
“She got game, that’s all I have to say,” said Ewert, who had 23 points.
Unfortunately for Prattville, a fan lost control of a basketball in the heat of the moment and found its way onto the court, forcing officials to call an “administrative technical foul” on Barber’s squad. McKenzie Garmany split two free throws to make it a two-point game, and Oak Mountain was awarded the ball at halfcourt with 3.5 left.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Ewert laughed. “At first, I thought I had fouled. I thought they called a foul on me, but I wanted to go find that little boy or adult who throw that ball onto the court.”
However, Garmany misfired on the potential game-tying shot.
Pierce netted 20 points, and Garmany added 17 for the Eagles (17-12), which failed to connect from deep after making five over the first two quarters.
“We just didn’t execute — basically it falls on me,” Oak Mountain coach George Minoso said.