Fayette County senior point guard Maegan Barkley couldn’t hold back her emotions as she dribbled out the waning seconds of the Region 3-AAAAA championship.
Barkley had waited four years for this moment. She had spent the last 48 months of practices and games dreaming of this opportunity. More importantly, she waited alongside fellow seniors Rikkele Miller, Trinity Brown, Gabrielle Chinn, and Ozemeyi Egure for the chance to call themselves champions.
As the final seconds ticked away, it was this group of seniors that finished on the floor. The group, who led Fayette County to a 49-39 victory over Starr’s Mill, had finally reached the pinnacle of the region after years of heartbreak and pain.
“It is a blessing and a dream come true,” Barkley said. “We worked really hard every day and it paid off.”
This season, the seniors made a pact to not experience that losing feeling again. They were hungry for a region title that constantly slipped from their grasp. It had been a long road for the team that had failed to get in the winner’s circle their first three season.
In their first year, the group finished second in the region. While they made the Final Four of the state playoffs, they were still hungry for a region win. The sophomore campaign didn’t bear enough fruit as they finished 10-15 and missed out on playoff contention. Fayette would rebound with a 21-9 record last season, yet they got bounced in the semifinals of the region playoffs by McIntosh.
Each step left a brazen sensation of what could have been for the squad. The seniors ensured that the story would be different against Starr’s Mill. After narrowly defeating the Panthers twice this season, Fayette came out determined to finish what they had started.
Barkley lead all scorers with 15 points, including six points in the first quarter. She was aggressive in attacking the paint and found teammates with open passes. Her presence made it tough on Starr’s Mill as they struggled to contain her dribble penetration.
This led to Brown and Miller getting involved on the perimeter. Brown had 11 points and hit a buzzer-beater to close out the first quarter. Miller was strong from distance as she hit four 3-pointers in the game. She finished with 14 points and was the catalyst of a 13-5 run to end the first half.
Fayette took a 24-14 lead into halftime and extended the lead despite a strong game from Starr’s Mill shooting guard Alice Anne Hudson. She brought the Panthers back into the game with seven points in the third quarter.
Hudson also orchestrated an 8-0 run and finished with 18 points on the night. She was the only consistent scorer as fellow teammates Ashlyn Lally and Alyssa Angelo finished with a combined three points against the Tigers.
Without much offense, Starr’s Mill struggled to get into a rhythm and it caused them to fade late in the contest. Miller put the game away with a deep 3-pointer to seal the victory and the region title.
“This is one of their goals and we got it done,” Fayette head coach John Strickland said. “It is good for those girls to have a region title.”
The win was the eighth region title for Strickland. He was proud of his team for battling back and achieving their goals. He also praised Starr’s Mill for pushing them to the limit in each matchup.
“We had to battle all year against them and they are good,” Strickland said. “It could have gone either way. They got all those girls coming back and they will be really good.”
After the game, the Tigers celebrated with Strickland as he congratulated them on a job well done. The senior players were thankful for him helping to get them over the hump.
“It is an honor to play for him as he pushes us every single day,” Barkley said. “He pushes us past our limits and out of our comfort zone. He also makes us get stronger to work as a team. We run and work hard and it showed tonight.”
Both Fayette and Starr’s Mill will play in the Class AAAAA state tournament starting this weekend. The Tigers will face Union Grove at home on Friday. The Panthers will also be at home on Friday to face Woodland.
To see more photos from the game, click here.