The tears were immediate. The fears soon followed.
When Warner Robins senior Asha Stegall crumpled to the floor after colliding with a Northside player in the closing minutes of the Demonettes semifinal win during the Region 2-AAAAA basketball tournament at Jones County High School on Friday, her injury appeared serious. She turned her right ankle in the collision and needed assistance to get off the court and into the training room.
With a healthy lead and little time remaining, the Demonettes seemed capable of hanging on to defeat Northside with or without their point guard and emotional leader. But what of Saturday? Would Stegall be available as Warner Robins played for a third consecutive region championship?
Remarkably, Stegall returned to the bench. During a timeout, head coach Tom Mobley looked at her and asked if she could play. Stegall nodded yes.
Go, Mobley said.
Stegall finished the game as the Demonettes primary ball-handler; leading the team as shed done all night. All year, in fact.
After losing seven key players to graduation, Warner Robins approached the new school year with two goals: make the state tournament and post a winning record.
The prospects for achieving even those modest milestones seemed dubious. In 19 years as head coach, Mobley learned to expect a dropoff in production after the departure of star performers like Danielle Gazaway, who led the Demonettes to the 2011 Region 1-AAAA title, and Keyonna Armstrong, Diamond Hudson and Aaliyah Jones, who spearheaded last years championship run.
A performer on both of those squads, Stegall could have chosen to bask in past success. She could have eased back on the throttle a bit. She could have skipped basketball completely and trained for track.
She did none of those things. Instead, during a team camp at Northside in June, Stegall laid down the law.
From the very first day of camp, she was all about, Im not gonna let things slip, Mobley said. She worked her butt off.
It was a remarkable accomplishment for the Demonettes to earn berth in the championship game against sharp-shooting Evans. Still, Stegall wasnt satisfied. Held scoreless in the first quarter while contributing three of the teams early seven turnovers, Stegall found her rhythm as the game wore on. And, as theyd done since June, the Demonettes danced to the beat she put down.
Stegall scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as Warner Robins rallied to tie the game on CeCe Carrolls 3-point shot with 10 seconds left. Stegall then scored 11 in overtime as the Demonettes put the game away. She finished the night with 29 points.
Clutching the championship trophy tightly, Stegall reflected on the last eight months.
This victory feels good, she beamed.
Contact Chris Deighan at firstname.lastname@example.org.