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SIDEBAR: Bravettes' title was well worth the wait

Mar. 6—MACON — About an hour.

That's how long Baldwin High School girls head basketball coach Kizzi Walker stayed inside the locker room after her team's heartbreaking 51-47 loss to Griffin in the 2023 state championship game.

Reporters stood outside the door within the bowels of the Macon Coliseum that night waiting for the coach to exit and give postgame comments. The gathered media members gave up after over 30 minutes, needing to get back to their work.

There was a little more waiting to do in Wednesday's GHSA Class 4A title game between the Bravettes and Lady Hawks of Hardaway — waiting for the Baldwin girls to show up. Nearly three whole quarters of it as the challengers from Columbus enjoyed a 27-11 lead with 5:20 to play in the third. The Bravettes had been flat, missing free throws, easy shots inside, and looking nothing like the team that had accumulated a 28-2 record heading into the contest Wednesday.

Senior guard Madison Ruff was asked after the game who that team was that played so out-of-character for over two and a half quarters.

"It wasn't us," Ruff said. "It wasn't us at all. I think we were just a little nervous and a little shaken up because this is such a big crowd. But as we got used to it, as we kept talking to each other, as we keep knowing each other from experience from last year, we got in our heads and said we can do this."

"I didn't feel like myself," added junior Kassidy Neal, who finished with nine points, seven coming in the second half. "I was kind of scared somewhat. I was nervous for our team. I was nervous for our fans. I was nervous all around. But as the game went on, I started to get confident and as we started to pick up momentum we were shutting them down as soon as we switched defenses. I feel like this game was one of the best games we ever played. We showed our heart."

The Bravettes eventually found the mentality that made them favorites to win the championship all season long, chopping away at Hardaway's lead with clutch play after clutch play. Meanwhile the well-represented Baldwin faithful in the Macon Coliseum seats were just waiting for any reason to erupt. Ruff gave it to them right before time expired in the third as she slipped in between two defenders and put up a tough shot through contact. It fell even though she was fouled, and she made good on the three-point opportunity to bring her team within four as the final period approached. Eruption achieved.

"When I hit that and-one, I knew that was our moment to come back," said Ruff.

Riding that spark, the Bravettes really turned it on in the fourth, dominating the frame 22-10 to win the program's first state championship in 36 years. They were helped along by a risky, but heads-up play by Morgan Ruff with 3:58 to play. Inbounding under the basket on Baldwin's offensive end, Ruff's defender was playing with her back to the ball. Ruff took full advantage, bouncing a pass off the Lady Hawk player's back and right to herself for an easy lay-in that brought BHS to within three. Those were her only points of the night.

"Morgan has been tremendous for us in these playoff games," coach Walker said. "Kudos to Morgan."

Mo. Ruff was one of many players asked after the game how it feels to go out a champion.

"I don't know if words can explain it. I'm so happy. We got knocked out last season, but we just came and played harder today. It's a dream come true. What more could we ask for?"

Walker and her players wasted almost no time before emerging from their locker room Wednesday. After 36 years, with a couple of close calls in between, the wait was over.