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Heat come up short in title game

Photo: Mark Young. Gwinnett Heat's Brandon Bluford (11) battles Atlanta Wolfpack's Toraino Newton (21) for the ball during the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs Wheelchair Championship on Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Photo: Mark Young. Gwinnett Heat's Brandon Bluford (11) battles Atlanta Wolfpack's Toraino Newton (21) for the ball during the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs Wheelchair Championship on Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

DULUTH -- Brandon Bluford got a trophy, just not the one he came looking for.

The night before the Gwinnett Heat took on the Atlanta Wolfpack, Bluford said he was, "looking forward to coming home with that trophy."

Instead, Gwinnett's Adapted Sports wheelchair basketball team came up short in the state championship game, losing 41-14 to the Wolfpack. A second-place trophy will have to do.

Each team also took home the GHSA medals and Giselle Zavala plans to wear hers to school Monday where she will read the announcements and the score of the game in the morning.

"It was amazing," Zavala said of the state championship game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. "It was the most fun I've ever had."

Zavala, a fifth-grader, didn't score, but she did put in quality defensive time. And defense in wheelchair basketball is mostly clanging your wheelchair into the other player's chair.

"It's too much ramming," Zavala said.

Though her ramming slowed Atlanta, it could not stop the powerhouse. Every time the Heat would go on a run, Reece Johnson stopped it. Johnson scored 19 of the Wolfpack's 41 points.

Alex Reed led the Heat with five and Martinez Johnson scored four.

This season was the Heat's first playing varsity wheelchair basketball and the trip to the state title game allowed the players a chance to play in front of hundreds in the arena.

"It was cool," said Trintney Whitsel, who said she wished people did not spread out to make it louder.

Gwinnett quickly fell behind 7-0 in the first period, but rallied with its defense in the second, to pull within six at 14-8 early in the third, but Atlanta's Johnson scored six points over the next two periods to key a 14-1 run heading into halftime of the six-period game.

The run ended the Heat's chances of a title, but not the fun the players had.

"I am disappointed, but it's not the end of the world," Zavala said.

For Zavala and other Heat players, this team, win or lose, gives them something to be proud of.

"Sports have changed my life," she said. "I was shy and closing up. (The team) was a miracle. Today I am confident in what I am."