Not by just getting that statement-making win at two-time defending state champion Norcross to begin the season — even further back then that. Back when seniors Dominique Wilson, Pachiyaanna Roberts and Kayla Montgomery were playing basketball together in middle school as coach Phyllis Arthur entered her first season at McEachern in 2006-07.
“I love those seniors,” Arthur said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without them. I’ve been with them since they were in middle school. They said a long time ago that they were going to win state their senior year, and they did it. They’re prediction came true.”
If only the trio could have predicted the score.
McEachern raced out to a 20-7 first-quarter lead and kept the throttle going late in the game, as the Lady Indians defeated Region 4AAAAA archrival Hillgrove 69-36 to claim the Class AAAAA state championship Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
It’s the first state title for McEachern, which finished the season with an unblemished 33-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking according to ESPN. The Lady Indians were making their second appearance in the state title game after losing to Norcross last year 61-36.
“(Winning the first state title) means so much for Powder Springs, for Cobb County, for our region and for McEachern High School,” Arthur said. “We’re one of the first teams in the county to go undefeated, and I’m just happy for everybody.
“I will never forget this season. This means so much. We knew we could really be good, and as we got going and started beating some big teams and some ranked teams, we knew we could go all the way. Just being 33-0 is phenomenal. There’s not much you can say. They did what they had to do to get there.
“Last year, when we lost and I was so emotionally upset because we lost, I made my mind up that it would not happen again. If I cry this time, it’s going to be tears of joy not tears of sadness. This means a lot for those girls who have worked, pushed, and had me getting on them for hours and hours during practices, and they deserve it. I’m just so proud of them. I hate to see them go.”
Wilson led McEachern with 20 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Roberts collected a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, along with four blocked shots, while freshman Te’A Cooper had 11 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Mia Cooper contributed six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals for McEachern, Destinie Gibbs scored six points, six rebounds and two steals and Montgomery collected four points, three rebounds and six blocks.
The opening moments really told the tale of the entire contest. Mia Cooper connected on a 3-pointer as McEachern raced out to a 13-0 lead. Hillgrove (26-5) didn’t make its first field goal until Tiffani Schick’s putback with 2:52 remaining in the first quarter.
Cooper hit another trey late in the period, but Celina Rodrigo’s half-court 3-pointer found the bottom of the net as time expired with Hillgrove trailing 20-7.
“The beginning really set the tempo of the game,” Arthur said. “We knew we had to get on them quick. We can’t sit around and wait. They’re an excellent team. They’re well-coached, so I knew we had to get up on them quick because they’re very aggressive and they can shoot.”
McEachern outscored Hillgrove 17-11 in the second quarter and built a 21-point lead with 45 seconds on the clock after Wilson’s 3-pointer. Rodrigo’s two free throws with 18 seconds left pulled the Lady Hawks to within 37-18 at halftime.
Ahead by 19 early in the third, Gibbs, who won two state championships at Southwest DeKalb before finishing her senior season at McEachern, picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench, which is when Hillgrove made its run.
The Lady Hawks outscored the Lady Indians 13-6 in the third period. A 3-pointer from Wilson gave McEachern a 42-25 advantage, but Hillgrove closed the frame on a 6-1 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Mackenzie Engram, and it trailed 43-31 entering the fourth.
“At the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Arthur said, “I told them, ‘This is it, and we can’t give them another surge.’ Dominique’s been a leader for us the whole season and she stepped up vocally. We told them this is our quarter to really play hard and go out there and do your thing. I told Patches, ‘This is your last hurrah, so you need to go out there and play.’ She stepped it up.”
Roberts scored eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter, scoring six of them off offensive putbacks. Wilson was also key down the stretch, registering eight of her 20 in the final frame.
Both teams began finally clearing their benches with about 3 minutes remaining in the game. Hillgrove’s shots either hit the rim or fell short as it couldn’t get anything going offensively. The Lady Hawks were outscored 26-5 in the fourth.
“We’ve been doing this for four years, and to finally win state is a dream come true,” Roberts said. “I’ve been with Dominique and Kayla since sixth grade. We were undefeated in seventh and eighth grade, and to finally come to McEachern High School and win a state championship — words just can’t explain it.
“Everyone’s says we’re making history, and we finally made history for McEachern. We’re the first girls basketball team to finally win state.”
Rodrigo led Hillgrove with 17 points and had five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Engram totaled seven points, seven boards and three steals. Meredith Heyer and Maisie Steed each had three points and four boards. Maurissa Lester totaled four points and four rebounds.
“I was so proud of our kids, especially in the third quarter,” said Hillgrove coach Sheryl Fowler who is retiring with 568 wins over 30 seasons. “Our girls fought hard. They could have folded, but they did not. We got to within 12 and we got tired. We weren’t getting back on defense, and they just outran us. It was one of those nights. I’m proud of the kids and my seniors and I wish them the best.
“All of the stats were the same from the last game, but the shooting percentages. They shot their eyes out and we couldn’t buy a basket. We got some shots in the third quarter to give us some momentum, but we couldn’t hold on.”