BIRMINGHAM – It was an 11-point run in the last couple minutes of the game that gave the Phillips High School She Bears (26-10) the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s 1A state basketball championship Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Birmingham Jef-ferson Civic Center’s Legacy Arena.
The She Bears, led by head coach Scott Veal, defeated the Skyline Vikings (29-6) by a score of 71-63. The state crown was the third in school history for the She Bears, but the first since 1986.
Two PHS assistant coaches Deb Cook and Julie Hallman played on the 1986 championship team and this year had the honor of coaching their daughters, Baily Bishop and Gracie Hallman, for the 2019 championship.
Senior guard Lexie Dishner had two straight layups to give Phillips a 64-63 lead, as the She Bears were trailing 63-60 with 2:33 left in the game.
She added four free throws and another bucket in the final 33 seconds to finish with 32 points. She also had 7 steals, 3 assists, 3 3-pointers and was 9-of-11 at the foul line to earn 1A state tourney MVP honors.
Teammate Ally McCollum added 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Gracie Hallman contributed 18 points and 4 assists.
The lead changed nine times during the game, with it tied twice.
Coach Veal commented during the post-game press conference, “It is quite an honor to be here the second year in a row. It is the players we have that make the team and the school.
“At times I said we are in trouble. But these girls kept playing and fighting to the very end. I told them just hang on for four minutes, just four minutes and they did that.
“I tell you,” he said as he choked back tears, “I felt like I was going to die a couple of times. We just kept pushing and pushing. We got some steals and went down and made some shots.
“I am speechless at how proud I am of these girls.”
Coach Veal said he felt that playing teams that pressured the She Bears during the regular season helped to get them to their goal. He also said that he felt with McCollum coming to PHS, it had helped the She Bears to have the opportunity to play for state championships. “We are a team and I can’t say enough about the dedication and hard work all of team have put in. I am so proud of all of them.”
Dishner commented about the last two steals in the game, “I knew they were going to hold the ball as much as they could to run time off the clock. I was told to stay on #21. Gracie and everyone on the team were pressuring the girls. I was staying still because my player wasn’t moving and I got a break. I saw the chance between the handoff and I took it. The pressure made them have to get the ball off quick. I just knew I had to help my team the best way I could and we were not losing this time. We just weren’t.”
The She Bears got off to a slow start with with five turnovers in first two minutes of the game. They were down 8-0. Coach Veal commented, “I told them in the locker room that we could not give them the momentum to get into the game and sure enough it happened. I think we were over anxious. We went back to what we did to get us here. If I can give anybody any advised it is ‘stick to what you do.’ You need to stick to what gets you here.”
Hallman addressed the slow start, “I usually start off bad,” she laughed. “It takes me a while to get in the flow. But I just kept thinking how it means to my community if we win. I remembered all the practice we have put in and the sprints we have done. I just kept fighting and fighting because I knew I couldn’t let up or give in. I knew how much it meant to all of us.
McCollum added, “We stuck to what we do. They were double teaming me and most teams do. I was just trying to handle the pressure. I told my teammates to shoot it and I had them if it doesn’t go in.”
The Class 1A All Tourney Team included: Lexie Dishner, Phillips (MVP); Ally McCollum, Phillips; Gracie Hallman, Phillips; Caitlin Ledwell, Skyline; Bailee Usrey, Skyline; Morgan White, Westminster-Oak Mountain.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.