On Saturday night, a few hours after coaching his team into this week’s Class AAAAA state semifinals, basketball coach Randy McClure still was in a bit of disbelief.
“To be honest, it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet,’’ he said.
And who is to blame McClure, now in his 21st season as head coach at the school. Eight times prior, including six of the last seven seasons, McClure had guided the Lady Spartans to the state quarterfinal round, only be denied advancing further.
But Saturday on the campus of Fort Valley State University was different. Facing a region rival in North Cobb that it had lost to in both regular season meetings this year, a more than motivated Campbell came to play and turned back the Lady Warriors by a final of 58-53.
The victory, the 18th in the last 20 games for the sixth-ranked Lady Spartans, earned them their first final four appearance since the school opened in 1990 as a merger of the old Campbell and Wills high school.
Campbell, 25-6, will face Norcross, which eliminated the Lady Spartans in the elite eight last year, in Thursday’s semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The winner will face the winner of McEachern-Mill Creek for the championship on Friday night.
Saturday, the Lady Spartans were dealt an early blow when standout senior guard Chakecia Miller injured her ankle late in the opening quarter. But this is an upperclassmen-led squad and the Lady Spartans didn’t wilt with one of their star players on the bench.
Led by senior Erica Norwood and junior Baylee Hawkins in the backcourt and senior frontcourt players Angel Foster and Jalessea Phillips, Campbell went on a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to take a 23-14 lead. The Lady Spartans would never trail after that.
Norwood and Hawkins each finished the game with 14 points, while Foster and Phillips pulled down 11 and nine rebounds respectively.
North Cobb clawed to within five points in the third quarter, but the Lady Spartans countered with a 9-0 run late in the quarter. Campbell led by at least eight points for much of the fourth quarter until North Cobb scored some final second hoops to make the final score closer than the game actually was.
Miller, clearly not at 100 percent, did return to the game in the second half and finished with 11 points. McClure said he felt the George Washington University signee would be ready for Thursday’s semifinal.
“Kisha’s level of play means so much to us, but Baylee and others really stepped up,’’ said McClure.
And now that this program has final by-passed the ever-difficult quarterfinal round, the reality as that the Lady Spartans now are merely two wins from a state title.
“We’ve always known we had a good system in place, but these kids are so great,’’ McClure said. ”The chemistry on this team has been as good as we’ve ever had. They’ve been great.