Christen Copeland picked a good season to focus on her free throws.
As an unlikely hero for the situation, Copeland came through from the charity stripe in the closing seconds to secure a 41-34 win over Prince Avenue Christian for Lakeview Academy’s second-straight Region 8-A title on Saturday.
Copeland made 6 of 8 free-throws down the home stretch, all the reason for Lakeview Academy girls coach John Carrick to approach his upperclassman on the bench as they awaited the final trophy presentation.
“You’re a pitiful free-throw shooter,” he said with a laugh before the Lady Lions re-entered the court for the last time.
“Last year if I had to guess, she was 40-something percent from the free-throw line," Carrick added. "This year, she has improved it — and I’m taking a guess — to 52 (percent).
“She brought it up.”
With the title, the fifth-ranked Lady Lions conclude the tournament and regular season perfect in region play (14-0). Carrick is confident they will most likely open the postseason in Gainesville next weekend.
The region championship lived up its billing. It was a scenario Lakeview Academy (24-4) had not experienced since the second game of the regular season, as it didn’t lead the Wolverines by more than four points until the final 30 seconds.
Baylee Rogers nailed back-to-back 3’s to give the Wolverines a 24-23 advantage at the half, and from there, the contest presented six lead changes. Copeland scored 10 of her 15 points down that stretch. She beat the third-quarter buzzer on a layup that put the Lions ahead for good, just seconds after Prince Avenue’s Jamie Henderson put the Wolverines ahead with a pair of free throws.
“I was so scared of having a tight game, because they haven’t had one in a pretty good while, since before we started region play,” Carrick said. “When we got that lead, I thought well, they can’t cover us out here spreading the court.”
Carrick applauded his players for defending Prince Avenue’s highly effective screen-and-roll, and also holding the Wolverines’ leading scorer and shifty guard Ansley Hall (12 points) to a single field goal for the second half.
“She’s just one hell of a defender,” Carrick said of Hall. If you get beat, your teammate gets beat off dribble penetration, everybody’s rotating over there to help. ...we did a much better job of that.”
Fellow senior Hanna Grogan also notched 15 points, senior Ryann Moody adding five to the pot as well for the Lady Lions.
Copeland, Moody and Grogan were the three to present the championship trophy to the Lakeview faithful.
This one may stand out in Carrick's 43-years of coaching.
“I don’t look that old, but I get so much joy in seeing the kids so happy, when you’re pushing them so hard,” Carrick added. “Our practices are tough, and I’m tough on them.”
LAKEVIEW ACADEMY BOYS 43, ATHENS CHRISTIAN 41: Lakeview boys coach Todd Cottrell could only laugh when asked if his heart rate had a chance to settle.
Despite some early offensive struggles, the Class A No. 1 ranked Lions (23-5) managed to fend off one last push by the visiting Eagles in order to escape as back-to-back undefeated Region 8-A champions, in what was a rare low-scoring outing for the tournament's top seed.
The Eagles outscored the Lions 14-6 in the fourth quarter to cut the margin to two points with only seconds to spare, but one 3-pointer attempt by Athens Christian fell short, and Jack Blackburn hauled in the final rebound to ensue the celebration from inside Lakeview Academy’s gymnasium.
“It wasn’t pretty at times. Both teams, I thought, competed like crazy, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in a championship game,” Cottrell said of the win. “I’m proud of our guys. We didn’t have a great offensive game, but our defense was good enough.”
With the win, the Lions conclude this stage of the season unbeaten in region play (15-0).
Cottrell added the atmosphere was tremendous on both sides of the floor, only adding to the thrilling fourth-quarter antics of Athens Christian. Of course, Lakeview's side proved a little louder by the end, a the home student section joined in on the postgame celebration by storming the court during the final trophy presentation.
“Both teams had great crowds, especially our opponent,” Cottrell added. Our student section and our Lakeview people were fantastic and that really helped us, especially when we needed it.”
The Lions trailed 13-7 after the first, butused to a big run in the second to squeeze their way back in it while forcing six Eagles turnovers on defense. Three-pointers by Adam and Drew Cottrell helped grant the Lions their first lead at the midway mark of the period, and the hosts went on to drain five-straight from beyond the arc during a 17-5 run right to enter the half ahead.
With the win, the Lions now await the release of the Class A private schools 24-team playoff brackets.
Tre Gober finished with 13 points to lead the Lions scoring efforts. Drew Cottrell, Josh Randolph and Adam Cottrell added six points apiece as well. Cody Boyd (13 points), Quincy Canty (13 points) and Richard Jibunor (11 points) paced the Eagles.