BRAVETTE STATE CHAMPIONS: Baldwin girls rally for state title

Mar. 6—MACON — All it took was a lousy first half with 20 percent shooting and 12 turnovers. All it took was falling behind by 16 in the third quarter.

Then the Baldwin High Bravettes took over and turned a No. 1 ranking into the real No. 1 of the GHSA's 4A girls basketball.

For the last 1:52 of Wednesday's state championship clash with Hardaway High at the Macon Coliseum, Baldwin scored the last eight points. That was only one point less than the whole first-half output for Kizzi Walker's bunch, but in the end nothing from the early parts of the game mattered, for it was a 47-39 final score and first title since 1988.

"We came out flat," said Walker after changing out of a nice new suit dampened by a post-game celebration. "We couldn't hit lay-ups. Wasn't playing defense. That was a big no-no, so we had to re-adjust for the second half.

"I gave them that speech. What are you going to do? You came this far again, and are you just going to give it away? You have to think about everything we went through, every mile we had to run. Every time I made you get on the line because I was mad. Mediocrity. I don't like it."

This was Baldwin's second straight finals appearance in Macon, last year's ending in a loss to Griffin. Time and again Walker talked about nerves getting the better of the Bravettes, and she thinks that was an enemy again.

But Hardaway wasn't any better, shooting 21 percent from the floor and missing seven foul shots in the first half. The Hawks from Columbus were ahead 15-9 at the half, then scored the first six of the second half. Baldwin couldn't score until 5:50 of the third quarter from the foul line, then Hardaway must have felt a big dagger was put into the Bravettes. The Hawks hit two 3-pointers in a row to lead by 16, 27-11.

Walker also had to work around some foul issues with starters Madison Ruff and Janaye Walker, her daughter and starting center. Janaye had three fouls in the first half, but the coach knew she was the one to get going as layups are Baldwin's "bread and butter."

"We already knew they were trapping the wings, so we had to penetrate," she said.

And lob the ball into the paint, which is what they did to get the first field goal, by Janaye, of the second half. Though Hardaway got on the board through rebounding a miss at the foul line, again the ball went inside to Janaye, and then again the next time down to Kassidy Neal.

On the other end, Baldwin had the Hawks rattled with on-the-ball pressure, and the opposing team didn't score again in the third. With 41 seconds on the clock, Janaye Walker put back an offensive rebound. Hardaway turned the ball over, and Madison Ruff took the ball in, scored, drew a foul, and completed the three-point play.

In all, it was 11 straight for Baldwin to end the quarter down four, 29-25.

Starting guard Jasmine Williams knocked the ball away as the Hawks tried transition early in the fourth period. Walker kept the streak going scoring on a third-chance shot.

Hardaway did what it could to cling to the advantage, and helped itself with five made foul shots. Madison Ruff, though, scored on the offensive glass, but Janaye earned her fourth foul at 5:17 and her team still trailing by five, 34-29.

The substitute for the center, Morgan Ruff, got a little innovative, not to mention lucky with a miracle save under her basket. The ball went to JaMya Easley for two. Following a takeaway, Morgan did an inbound to the back of a Hawk. Nobody was there to stop her taking her own shot and only points of the game.

One more turnover from Hardaway, and Madison Ruff did a little magic act going baseline on the dribble, turning and scoring, and Baldwin was down one, 36-35. She tied the game at the line with 3:22 to play.

Hardaway's final dent in the scorebook was a go-ahead 3-pointer. But they couldn't stop giving the ball away, and Baldwin cashed in a tying basket, 39-39, at the 1:52 mark.

From there, it was Madison's penetration assist to Neal that essentially won the game at 1:12. Madison went to the line for the last six, and Baldwin wins with another Morgan Ruff steal and despite Janaye getting foul No. 5.

"Their drive to want to win," said coach Walker. "I got to give it up to the girls. They were determined they were going to be state champions."

Madison Ruff had 17 points. Janaye Walker had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

"I told them to take over," said coach Walker. "Big time players have got to produce.

"I had to calm (Madison) down. She was so hyped ... wasn't playing her own game. I had to sit her down ... get her attention."

Hardaway led 8-6 after the first quarter, two of the Baldwin baskets on high-low assists, Easley to Walker and Morgan to Neal. But it was plagued by turnovers, one particularly bad one for Baldwin with five seconds to go, and it gave the Hawks an extra point to lead by two.

Each team scored one point in the second quarter for three-plus minutes. It appeared a big spark off the bench would come from Zy Paschal and her offensive rebound basket at 2:35. But the Hawks scored two in a row, one off a block. Hardaway had other chances to score, but missed from the foul line and could not cash in a turnover with 13 seconds to play.

The Bravettes now look forward to even more success. Yes, Paschal, Williams and the Ruff sisters will be gone, but the bigs Walker and Neal are only juniors with more talent waiting to keep the streak of finals appearances going in AAA next season.