One after another, each FPD player climbed up and down the ladder significantly slower than they would have earlier in the day.
The excitement was clear on their faces, but their bodies told a different story. But that always seems to be the case when the girls of FPD play their counterparts from Stratford, particularly Friday when the Lady Vikings beat the Eaglettes 49-38 to win the GISA Region 2-AAA championship for the third straight year. They beat Stratford for the second straight year in the championship game and now have won five straight over their rivals, a streak that included last year’s double overtime win in the state championship game.
When asked if it would be easy to sleep Friday night, FPD senior Morgan Johnson said, “You have absolutely no idea.”
But everyone in FPD’s packed Middlebrooks Athletic Center knew just what Johnson meant after watching FPD and Stratford battle for 32 minutes.
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“This is just an intense rivalry,” Stratford head coach Ed Smith said. “It’s a lot of fun to be a part of. We just can’t seem to beat them.”
FPD held leads of eight points or more in every quarter, but it never could pull away until the fourth quarter when 31 of Stratford’s 38 points had fouled out of the game.
The Lady Vikings’ first large lead came in the opening minutes of the game, when two 3-pointers by Johnson helped them build a 10-2 lead.
With leading scorer Mallory Long on the bench, her freshman sister, Morgan Long, scored all but two of Stratford’s 10 first-quarter points to pull to within two points heading into the second quarter.
Johnson played strong the whole game, put her play in the first half kept the Lady Vikings steady while two starters sat significant minutes with foul trouble.
“I think Morgan showed what kind of leader she is by the way she played (Friday),” FPD head coach Charley Chase said.
One of the foul-plagued starters, Tori Maddox, came alive with a strong fourth quarter to help the Lady Vikings keep the Eaglettes at bay.
Maddox scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Lady Vikings to end two separate fourth-quarter rallies by the Eaglettes.
Stratford cut the FPD’s lead to four points at 34-30 with 3:52 to play in the game on a pair of free throws by Mallory Long.
But Maddox answered with a putback layup on FPD’s next possession, while the Eaglettes turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. The Lady Vikings scored on their next two possessions to push the lead to 10 points with just less than two minutes to play.
“I think that was the game right there,” Chase said. “If we don’t score and they get it to two or three points, it might be a different game, especially with a team like Stratford. I thought that was the difference in the game because it really put the clock into play.”
Stratford would claw back again, but had too many points to overcome and not enough time left. It got back to within five points with 1:22, but then ballooned back to 10 with made free throws and another putback by Maddox with under a minute to play.
“I think we just brought out a lot of intensity in the fourth quarter,” Maddox said. “We converted some hustle plays and they paid off.”