Pisgah players can finally use the word “repeat.”
The Class 3A No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Eagles had avoided that word and the thought of it throughout the season.
But Friday, “repeat” was the word of the day.
Pisgah held off No. 7 Montgomery Academy 46-41 in the Class 3A Girls Basketball State Tournament Championship Game at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena to win its second straight state championship.
“We achieved our goal,” said Pisgah head coach Carey Ellison. “We’ve been hunted all year. It was pretty much the goal since we left [the media] room here last year. So many people returning. It was the expectation of winning it, it’s been a lot of pressure. They’ve handled it so well. I think mostly because they didn’t talk about it. They’ve been phenomenal all season.”
It’s the seventh state title in program history for Pisgah, it’s fifth under Ellison and it’s first repeat title reign since the 1980-81, 1981-82 teams went back-to-back.
“I’ve had a lot of chances to do it and managed to come up short in those repeat attempts,” Ellison said. “I’ve wanted to say we went back-to-back. Everybody wants to do that.”
The repeat did not come easy.
Pisgah (34-1), which finished with a school-record 34 wins, scored a season-low 46 points and committed a season-high 24 turnovers. The Eagles shot only 32 percent and made just 9 of 21 free throws. But after seeing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead cut to one with 37.7 seconds left, Auburn signee Hughes made four free throws and fellow senior Bailey Law made a clutch end of game play for the second straight year to help Pisgah prevail in the championship game.
After Hughes made a free throw to give Pisgah a 43-41 lead, Law tipped the ball away from behind from Montgomery Academy’s Emma Stevenson to force a jump ball that went to Pisgah with 29 seconds remaining.
“I was right behind her and I knew that if I kept going, I could hit [the basketball,” said Law, who hit the go-ahead free throws in the final minute of last year’s 62-59 finals win over Lauderdale County.
After Hughes made another free throw for a 44-41 Pisgah lead, Montgomery Academy (30-3) missed a pair of 2-point shots – Pisgah’s Molly Heard blocked Montgomery Academy’s Ann Chapman’s putback – and Hughes was fouled after coming away with the rebound with six seconds left. Hughes sank both, starting the Pisgah celebration.
“There really are no words to explain how awesome this is,” said Hughes, who was named the Class 3A State Tournament MVP for a second straight season. “Extremely blessed.”
Hughes scored a game-high 24 points despite second-half foul trouble that saw her sit for half of the fourth quarter. She also had eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Law closed with eight points and five steals for the Eagles while all-tournament selection Chloe Womack had five points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Leighton Robertson and Stevenson scored 14 and 11 points each for Montgomery Academy, which led 11-10 after one quarter before trailing 27-20 at halftime and 33-28 after three quarters.
The win, only the second for Pisgah this season that wasn’t by double digits, improved Pisgah to 65-2 over the past two seasons. Both losses came to Tennessee teams; Pisgah hasn’t lost to a team from Alabama since the 2017 state finals.
“Super proud for these girls. They deserve it,” Ellison said. “So many great things you can say about these girls. I don’t really know how to express what I’m feeling right now without crying, and I’m not going to do it.”
Hughes said the Eagles didn’t talk about going back-to-back during the season, but underneath it all, they wanted to for Ellison, who has taken Pisgah to 11 state championship game appearances in his 23-year tenure.
“We made history for Coach E,” Hughes said. “That’s special.”
Added Law, “It was special because of what it meant to him.”