Archer knew the odds were stacked against them and the only way to show they deserved to be in the 6A championship game was to go out and play to win the game. For 16 minutes the Lady Tigers hung tough against heavily favored and nationally-ranked McEachern.
Archer was doing what they had worked on all week and the result landed McEachern starters T’ea Cooper and Caliya Robinson on the bench in foul trouble, each were saddled with three fouls, at the 5:11 mark of the second quarter with Archer trailing 27-24. Cooper had 15 points and Robinson 8 points when they were forced to sit.
Reserve Linsey Marchese came up big for Archer scoring all eight of her points during a span covering the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters where Archer outscored McEachern 16-12 capped by a Tatiana Wayne layup with 4:48 remaining tying the contest at 27.
“We did what we intended to do early. We played disciplined and we got them to leave their feet defensively and were able to get them in foul trouble,” Archer head coach Ryan Lesniak said.
Archer would go down by seven when Madison Newby added a free throw; Amber Skidgel knocked home a 3-pointer and a deuce, while Autumn Newby scored a basket between Skidgel’s buckets. However, McEachern’s bench would outscore Archer 12-8 to close the first half for a 39-35 halftime lead.
“They are a very good team, well coached and they were disciplined. We told the subs that when you go in there you have to keep it going and they did what they had to do,” McEachern head coach Phyllis Arthur said.
McEachern got the ball rolling with Cooper and Robinson back on the floor in the third quarter combining for nine points during a 15-2 run in the first 3:48 extending to a 54-37 advantage. Robinson was 3-4 from the field with 8 points in the quarter. Archer never got closer than 13 points after that as the Lady Indians lead ballooned to 26 points with 5:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“You know you got two top 50 in the nation (players) that came out in the third quarter with a chip on their shoulder. I don’t think Robinson missed a shot in the third quarter. She lit it up,” Lesniak said while looking at the stat sheet in his hand. “I thought we did a great job in the first half. We knew we could play with them and we proved we could play with them. I don’t fault our (players) for anything they did in the second half (McEachern) just hit shots.”
Lesniak continued to coach his squad hard to the final whistle including when he emptied his bench in the final minutes of the game yet Archer would fall 81-62. Robinson led McEachern with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assist. T’ea Cooper finished with 15 points, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 rebound while Jada Lewis tallied 14 points as McEachern won their second state title in three years.
“Everyone wrote us out of this game before we tipped it up and a four-point game at the half showed everybody where we’re at and were only in year five. We got some other kids coming up that’ll produce, were returning probably 90% of our scoring. This second place trophy hurts, but were in good shape and excited about the future” Lesniak stated. “We’ll learn from it, we’ll grow from it and hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
The future is indeed bright for Archer, the Newby sisters will be returning along with Amber Skidgel, Linsey Marchese and Cii Cii Marseille with championship game experience under their belt. Madison Newby finished with 21 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals and Autumn Newby posted another double-double with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists. Amber Skidgel had 8 points.
The Lady Tigers finish the season 29-4, losing only two games to Georgia opponents, won their first region championship and made their first state championship game appearance.