SAVANNAH, Ga. — Forty-five minutes after the game, Irie Spann’s hands were still trembling as she tried to talk about what the final 20 seconds of Beach’s basketball game with Washington County was like.
Spann banked in a 3-point shot with 20 seconds remaining to give the host Lady Bulldogs a heart-stopping 53-52 win over previously unbeaten and No. 1 Washington County (26-1) on Wednesday night.
The win propelled Beach (29-1) into the Final Four of the GHSA Class AAA state tournament. The Lady Bulldogs will play St. Pius X (28-3) Saturday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
Spann, a 5-foot-5 senior, found herself with the ball in her hands and opportunity in front of her. She took advantage of the situation and was rewarded when her shot hit the backboard and dropped through the net.
“I hadn’t hit a shot all year,” said Spann, a member of a senior class that was getting its 100th win. “I had to make it. Then I nearly threw it all away. When they got the inbounds pass, all I could think was that I had to get back on defense and we couldn’t let them score.
“Thank goodness for our defense.”
After Spann’s 3-pointer put the Bulldogs in front, the Golden Hawks came down and put up a shot which missed, and DyManee Royal pulled down the rebound. Washington County fouled with 6.2 seconds left.
Beach had to inbound the ball as it was the Hawks’ sixth foul of the half, and Spann was the inbounder. The plan was for a runner – a player breaking toward the basket – but Washington County foiled that and Spann’s pass was picked off.
Washington County got off two shots in a rough-and-tumble scrum under the basket, and when the second one missed, pandemonium broke out in the Beach gym.
Golden Hawk fans called for a foul but the officials’ whistles were silent.
“We didn’t get the foul, and they’re not going to make that call in that situation,” Washington County Coach Sug Parker said. “We just didn’t do our job defensively.”
Washington County got 18 points from Nia Johnson.
The Hawks hurt themselves at the foul line, where they made only 10 of 19 shots.
The Bulldogs led 29-26 at the half and expanded it to 45-39 going into the fourth quarter only to see the Golden Hawks step it up and lead by four points, 51-47, with four minutes to play.
Royal got a conventional three-point play to make it 51-50 with 3:42 on the clock. Washington County then missed four of five free throws before Spann’s shot decided the game.
“I think we felt some pressure in the fourth quarter with the lead,” Royal said. “Then we got frustrated, but when we got behind, we knew we had to pick up the intensity and we did. When we get someone in foul trouble, we always have someone to step up.”
As for Gordon, who is in her first year after replacing Beach legend Ronald Booker, she admitted it was a sweet feeling.
“Those final seconds are kind of blurry,” Gordon admitted. “I know after Irie scored and then when we turned it over, my thought was that we had to get back on defense. My mind was saying ‘Don’t let them score, and don’t foul.’ Fortunately we didn’t.”