Twin Rivers’ Lilian Kennedy (21) celebrates their 36-31 victory over McConnell with her teammates and cheerleaders during girls basketball Gwinnett County Middle School Championships at Berkmar High School in Lilburn Friday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
LILBURN — Fittingly, the ball finished in Katherine Fourie’s hands.
Twin Rivers’ shooting guard took the final pass and held the basketball, just smiling, relishing in her team’s 36-31 win over McConnell in the middle school championship game on Friday.
“I was like, ‘We did it,’” Fourie said. “We won.”
The win ended a nearly two-season long winning streak by McConnell and gave Twin Rivers its first Gwinnett County championship four days after the fifth-year school won the Western Division title.
“I knew this was going to be a close game,” said third-year head coach Katy Pennington. “Even if we got down a little bit they didn’t stop fighting."
A seventh-grader playing up with the eight grade team, Fourie scored 18 points for Twin Rivers, a Mountain View cluster school, and she hit the go-ahead basket for the Bears with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by six points in the fourth quarter, Twin Rivers switched its defense and began pressuring McConnell full court. The 29-23 deficit started to vanish. They forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter with Fourie and Lilian Kennedy leading the charge on offense. Kennedy scored four of her 10 points fourth quarter. Her four points got the run started and Bethany Maggert hit back-to-back free throws to tie the game at 29-29. The pair of free throws were the first made by Twin Rivers in the game, the Bears were 0-for-10 in the first three quarters.
McConnell responded by going to the free throw line and regaining the lead at 31-29 with 1:50 left.
But on the next possession, the ball four Fourie on the left wing behind the free throw line. When the shot fell, she leapt into the air shouting and pumping her fist and Twin Rivers led 32-31.
“I had a feeling that it was going to go in,” Fourie said. “I immediately enjoyed it.”
The remaining 90 seconds, Twin Rivers ran out the clock. Fourie sank two more free throws joined by Kristen Washington.
Twin Rivers earned its celebration in the final seconds. The Bears had withstood losing an early lead and plenty of struggles early in the game.
In the first quarter, Twin Rivers played like the team defending the title, jumping out to a nine-point lead. Fourie scored seven of the Bears' 13 points, including a 3-pointer and a basket in the final seconds of the quarter. McConnell struggled around the rim and on the glass in the quarter. The Tiger hit just one field goal and it didn’t come until the final minute from Asia McCoy, who played in the title game as a seventh grader last year.
But, McCoy’s field goal broke open the McConnell offense with the Tigers exploding for 11 points in the second quarter and returning to the from that has kept them without a loss for two seasons. McConnell forced 11 turnovers in the second quarter and started to come down with more rebounds. Ayo Ladipo scored four points in the quarter, both baskets off offensive rebounds. The grabbed five in the quarter. Then, in the final minutes Bria Harmon took over.
The point guard drove straight to the basket and followed that with a step-back 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to tie the game at 15-15 going into the half. Harmon ended the game with nine points to lead McConnell and McCoy scored seven.
McConnell took a slim lead in the third quarter, with McCoy scoring four of the team’s eight points, setting up the six-point led Twin Rivers eventually overcame.
“We just had faith in our team and that kept us together,” Fourie said. “We wanted to win this.”