By Ryan Cooke/Journal Pioneer
Twelve girls huddled around their coach, sweat dripping to the floor. They were beginning to look run down, their opponents crawling back into the game; at first slowly, but now rapidly late in the fourth quarter.
Their shoulders hung low, as the crowd on the opposite end of the floor began shouting.
“Let’s go Colonel… Let’s go Colonel…”
The chants grew louder and louder for the opposing Colonel Gray Colonels, who were looking to avenge last year’s championship game loss to the same club they now had within their reach.
Then a smile came across Becky Clarke’s face, as she picked up her shoulders and looked up to the stands.
The Three Oaks fans were now on their feet, facing the Colonels fans, and shouting back as loudly as they could.
“Let’s go Three Oaks… Let’s go Three Oaks.”
Clarke and her team came out of the timeout ready to play like champions, the way they played much of the game.
The championship game of the PEISAA Domino’s AAA Women’s tournament kicked off with Three Oaks showing why they were the number one seed.
After the first quarter, the score resembled that of a football game. Three Oaks showed their defensive strength, holding the score at 11-4 after one.
Play opened up a bit in the second, with both teams connecting on more of their shots. Three Oaks held a big lead through much of the quarter, however the Colonels began chipping away at the lead towards the end of the first half. A buzzer beater from beyond the arc by Colonel Gray’s Victoria Barbour put the score at 19-16 heading into the second half.
The third quarter saw Three Oaks pressure the ball carriers and take away passes all over the court. They got key scoring from sophomore Jessica Gillis late in the quarter, and pushed the lead to 42-22 heading into the final frame.
In the fourth, however, Colonel Gray showed why they were the second ranked team heading into the tournament. Not giving up, they began chipping away at the score again. The same Three Oaks defense that kept them to the outside and caused them problems all game was now allowing them to hit long distance shots. Three-pointers from Barbour and Morgan Fitzgerald brought the score to 46-38 with four minutes to go.
That’s when the crowd took control.
The building shook as the teams came back from a timeout to heavy chants and a standing crowd. The Colonels fans roared as one of their players came rushing down the floor off a steal. She was uncontested right to the last moment, when Clarke came behind her and swatted the easy layup away.
The Colonels would cut the lead to 48-43, but that would be as close as they would come.
Leading the way for Colonel Gray was Barbour, with a game-high 17 points. For Three Oaks, Gillis posted 11 points, while Charlotte Thompson put up 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“The girls worked really hard all game. They knew coming in as favourites tonight that it wouldn’t be easy, but they came out and gave a 100 per cent effort,” said Axewomen coach James Voye said.
While the efforts on the court contributed to the win, the efforts of the crowd also helped, he said.
“The fan support was awesome. It speaks a lot to the girls to have that much support in their corner.”
For Clarke, to repeat as champions in her senior year is extra special.
“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for since we started playing together when we were seven. We are a family. We’re sisters. We’re inseparable.”
Late in the game with the lead closing, the fans kept them going, she said.
“We had to pull it together there, and thank goodness we had our family and friends there to cheer us on.”
She is all smiles as she points out Three Oaks didn’t just win on the court.
“We did beat Grey in the cheering too.”