From almost any angle inside the Adairsville High School gymnasium, Alexa Varner’s last-second 3-pointer looked as though it was going in.
However, the would-be-game-tying shot clanked off the rim and a late free throw sealed a 52-48 road win for Sonoraville on Friday.
“I thought that last shot was in,” Roberson said. “From my angle, it was bottom. That was tough. …
“But I told them in the locker room, you just went toe-to-toe with the best team on our side [of the sub-region]. Everyone on our side, I think, is capable of beating anyone on a given night, so we’re still right there in it.”
Had Varner’s shot fallen, or the one prior to it, overtime almost certainly would have taken place between the Region 6-AAA rivals. It would have been a remarkable turn of events after Sonoraville (12-4, 6-1) appeared to have the game well in hand during an explosive second quarter.
Adairsville (2-15, 1-7) hung with the visitors throughout a slowed-down opening period, trailing just 13-10.
But once the Phoenix had a chance to create some turnovers, the Tigers soon faced a double-digit deficit. By the time the first half mercifully came to a close, Sonoraville had doubled up Adairsville by a 28-14 margin.
That’s when the Tigers faced a choice: fight back or accept defeat. The team had chosen the latter option most of the season. Recently, though, Adairsville had shown an ability to claw back when seemingly done and buried.
“I thought our second quarter was not very good,” Roberson said. “And not just offensively, when we missed a few shots and had some mental breakdowns.”
Roberson was incredibly pleased with the way his team answered the call at halftime.
“Super proud of the girls, because we really challenged them at halftime to make this thing a game,” Roberson said. “I told them when we were down 14 at halftime, we’re not going to get it all back at one time. …
“I’m just super proud of the girls for coming back and giving that effort.”
Behind an improved defensive effort and the 3-point shooting of Haven Issac, who had three triples and 11 total points in the quarter, Adairsville came storming back with arguably its best quarter of the season.
A 25-11 scoring advantage in the period sent the thrilling contest into the fourth quarter knotted at 39-39.
The Tigers struck first in the final stanza on a layup by Coriana McDaniel, but the Phoenix, which received 15 points from Alexa Geary, began showing why they sit atop the region standings at essentially the halfway point. Defensive lapses and turnovers that had helped fuel Sonoraville’s dominant second quarter returned.
Facing a 46-41 deficit, Isaac nailed another 3-pointer to give her 14 points for the game — all in the second half. Nakiyah Washington followed with a pair of free throws to tie the game up with 1:41 remaining.
Another quick burst by the Phoenix — this one giving Sonoraville a 50-46 lead — appeared to be decisive. But the Tigers weren’t done, yet.
Washington, who finished with a team-high 20 points, scored to make it a one-possession game in the final minute. After several missed shots in the final seconds, the junior went to the line again with her team down 51-48.
She missed both, but Adairsville corralled the board and Varner got a good look from deep. But just like the Rockmart game from last week, the Tigers couldn’t get a clutch bucket in the closing moments.
Roberson, though, thinks all the recent close games, heartbreaking as they may be, have given his team some confidence.
“I think they see it as a positive,” he said. “… Just the fact that it’s close and we give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter, I think that’s just positive for the girls.”
It’s clear Adairsville has improved over the course of the season. A largely inexperienced bunch, the Tigers are finally practicing what Roberson has been preaching.
“What we’re doing is totally different than what they’ve been doing the last two years,” Roberson said. “Even though we had a summer with them, it’s taken some time for them to buy into what we want to be about, which is defense. Starting on the defensive side, going inside and getting touches for our bigs then going outside, playing inside-out.
“We have to be a team who’s able to control the tempo. … Three of the last four games, they’ve really done that — really played defense, really ran offense. It’s just about them realizing this is who we need to be.”