Four days after it happened, Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin was still trying to understand how the Panthers had come out on the short end of a 44-43 score in their Class 1A girls state championship game Thursday.

Officially, R.A. Hubbard eighth-grader Alexandria Orr made the second of two free throws with no time on the clock to break a 43-43 tie and make Hubbard the 2017 state champion. In the 10 seconds of game time prior to that, two officiating decisions put Spring Garden between a rock and a hard place.

The most obvious came just as the final buzzer sounded. After taking an in-bounds pass at the far end of the floor with 5.3 seconds on the clock, Spring Garden point guard A.J. Broome was dribbling hurriedly up the court when she lost control of the ball after crossing the half-court line. Broome and Orr each went for the ball and collided on the floor. One official blew her whistle.  

“I thought they were going to call a player control foul when I heard the whistle blow so I didn’t think all was bad. When I realized she wasn’t calling a player control foul I was totally shocked, totally shocked, and still am,” Austin said Monday evening.

The foul was called on Broome. After conferring, the officials made two seemingly contradictory decisions. The first was that the foul had happened before the buzzer and the second was that there was no time left in the game.  

The foul was the tenth of the half against the Panthers and sent Orr to the free throw line for two shots. She was 0-for-4 at that point, having missed one chance at the end of the first half then failing on the front end of one-and-one three times in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, Orr missed the first of her two chances.

The final attempt appeared short when it left Orr’s hands. She said later she closed her eyes after releasing the ball. It hit the front end of the rim, bounced up and dropped through the net.   

“That thing hit the goal and it looked like it was going to fall off to the right and all of a sudden – boom – it fell in. … Knowing it hit so much of the rim before it went in it just wasn’t meant to be our day that day. It’s just a tough, tough, tough way to lose one,” Austin said.  

The second decision came with the score tied 43-43 as Hubbard point guard A’Nautica Bibbs missed a shot from the floor with nine seconds to play and Tiyanna (Bootsie) Rogers rebounded the miss for Spring Garden.    

“When Bootsie got the rebound, I immediately jumped on the court and started yelling, ‘Time out.’ There were 8.3 seconds on the clock when I started yelling, ‘Time out.’ Not one of the three officials was looking at me. I had to step out on the court and couldn’t get the timeout until 5.3 seconds. Those three seconds would have changed that whole last play. We would not have been in such a rush to get the ball down the court. … We lost three seconds there that I feel like was very, very important. That affected as much of the last play as anything,” Austin said.

The reports Austin received on Hubbard convinced him the Chiefs were not a dangerous team shooting the ball from outside. He said the game plan entering was to concentrate on Bibbs and 6-foot post player Kee-Undria Bolden. Austin credited Kerstin Bryant with doing a “fantastic job” on defense in limiting Bibbs to five points. Bolden was 5-for-13 from the floor for 10 points. The rebounding margin of 37-35 favored Hubbard but “was right where we needed it to be.”  

What wasn’t on Austin’s radar was three 3-point baskets by Charm Sausberry, two by Orr and one by Destiny Lee.

“They shot the ball better than we had seen them shoot. They hadn’t hit six 3-pointers in the last four games put together and they hit six on us. … We wanted to make the others beat us and literally that’s what happened, the other ones beat us. If we played that game again, we would defend them exactly the same way,” Austin said.

Spring Garden led 12-10 after one quarter but a 16-2 run helped Hubbard to a 29-22 halftime advantage. After three quarters, the Chiefs were up 39-29.

“Going into the fourth quarter down by 10, I thought we were still going to win the game. I really did,” Austin said.

The Panthers’ 14-5 margin in the fourth quarter wasn’t quite enough. Rogers scored 18 points and had 14 rebounds. Payton McGinnis also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. McGinnis had seven points in the fourth quarter and Rogers scored five in the fourth. Each was an all-tournament pick. Savannah Dempsey had two 3-pointers for her six points and added four rebounds. Two of Broome’s five points came in the fourth. She also recorded five boards, two steals and two assists. Macy Reedy scored two points. Bryant had three assists, three steals and two rebounds.

Spring Garden finished 25-8.