@WriturRece | firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE PARK (GA) – Logan Stephens was prevented from nailing the game-winning shot but the sophomore gladly settled for the game-winning free throws.
Like at the end of practice, Stephens calmly stepped to the foul line with 2.9 seconds left and nailed the decisive foul shots, lifting Woodward Academy to a 71-68 home victory over Cross Creek in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs on February 21.
“Logan has been big for us,” Woodward coach Anthony Thomas said. “He just stepped in and knocked them down. It is just a testament to him working hard in practice on it and then stepping up in the game and getting it done.”
“As soon as I got fouled my mind was rushing and then some of my teammates walked up to me and were encouraging me so I just had to step up there and knock it down, make sure I make the first one then after that my nerves were sort of over so the other two were easier,” Stephens said.
With Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl in attendance, Walker Kessler collected 29 points nine rebounds and four blocks for the War Eagles, who will travel to Alpharetta on February 27 to face Denmark in the Elite Eight.
With less than a minute left in the game, Woodward’s season was on the verge of coming to an end when Kobe Stewart (24 points) nailed a jumper from the wing for a 68-65 score. But on the next trip down the floor, Kessler received a pass from Jacorrei Turner (10 points) and pulled the War Eagles even with a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining.
“Well I’ve ripped up that shot thousands of times–a little catch, pivot then shot,” Kessler said. “I just looked at it as a practice shot but I wouldn’t have been able to hit that shot without the defense of the guards–just unbelievable defense. That is why we won that game honestly so shout out to all the guards.”
“[Walker’s] been doing it all year,” Thomas said. “I can’t say enough about him. He’s our go-to guy. He wants the shot and doesn’t run from the shot. When he loads it up, we have all the faith that he will make it.”
After forcing the Razorbacks to lose the ball out of bounds, Woodward had plenty of time to get a good look at the basket. Off the inbounds, Michael Whitmore (11 points, eight assists, four steals) got the ball on a dribble handoff from Kessler and then found Stephens on the opposite wing behind the 3-point line where he pulled up to shoot before being fouled by Stewart with just under three seconds left on the clock.
Stephens only had two points at that moment but confidently pushed his total to five and helped the War Eagles secure a spot in the next round.
“I know he said the next two were easy but it’s still very tough to make 3-out-3 in that high-pressure situation,” Kessler said. “In that case with those three shots, the best they could do was go into overtime. Those were very key free throws.”
Both teams had 3-point shots to beat the buzzer. At the end of the first quarter, Eric Gore (13 points, five assists) drilled a jumper to give Cross Creek one-point edge. Then before halftime, Andrew Nye drained a jump shot for a 36-31 score in favor of Woodward.
“They got here for a reason,” said Thomas of Cross Creek. “One of the toughest teams we’ve played. They were very physical and very confident and they came in with a chip on their shoulder and you could tell from the start. They made it a dog fight like you are supposed to do on the road so all credit to their coaching staff and their players.”