It’s official: One of Greater Rome’s best rivalries has suddenly returned to the forefront.
And so have the Armuchee girls.
After gradually and quietly building momentum during the past three weeks, the Lady Indians registered a bold-statement victory on Friday night by downing Model, 48-46, in a Region 7-AA thriller at Armuchee.
Heather Shore scored a team-high 12 points and JessAnn Nix and Mary Bess Skinner added 11 each for the Lady Indians (9-9, 5-3), who pumped new life into this tradition-steeped rivalry by beating Model for the first time since Dec. 7, 2010.
“It’s so huge,” said Armuchee senior Karli Boozer. “I mean, it’s Model, it’s my senior year — and we came out tonight and did everything we were supposed to do. … Words can’t even explain how this feels.”
The contest was played in front of an overflowing and enthusiastic crowd, which gave the game an old-school feel and brought back memories of when the Model-Armuchee showdown was one of the biggest draws of the year, even for neutral fans.
And Friday’s game certainly unfolded like one of the Armuchee-Model classics of the past.
The teams were never separated by more than four points during the fourth quarter until Shore hit a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left to give Armuchee a 48-43 lead.
Model’s Carla Clemmons, who played fiercely and finished with 25 points, kept Model alive by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 28 seconds left, and then scored in the paint with seven seconds left to trim the margin to 48-46.
Model (5-2, 12-5) still had a chance after Armuchee missed a pair of free throws with two seconds remaining, but the Lady Devils did not get off a shot.
When the buzzer sounded, the Armuchee players celebrated vibrantly at mid-court and they continued to do so as they ran toward the locker room.
Apparently, the noise level increased even more when the team got behind closed doors.
“It was crazy in there,” said Boozer. “We were all screaming and spraying water bottles and dancing around.”
Armuchee never trailed in the game, and the score was tied on only three occasions, once in the first quarter and twice in the fourth.
Still, the outcome was seemingly always in doubt, and every possession felt significant.
“After the game, I told the girls that I was just speechless (because) I was so proud,” said Armuchee coach Michelle Arp.
Armuchee opened the game with an 8-2 run that was fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Skinner, and the Lady Indians owned the lead at the end of each quarter — 16-9 at the end of the first, 24-19 at the half and 34-29 at the end of the third quarter.
“Armuchee came to play tonight, and that was obvious from the tip-off to the final buzzer,” said Model coach Sally Echols. “We were chasing Indians all night.”
As with most any big win, Armuchee had multiple players step up at key moments:
Nix, the junior point guard, kept the Lady Indians composed despite Model’s intense defensive pressure. Nix also went 3-of-4 at the foul line in the fourth quarter.
Shore didn’t attempt many shots, but she was efficient, finishing 4-of-7 from the floor and hitting two clutch free throws with 32 seconds left.
Claire Tibbetts scored all five of her points in the fourth quarter, and they were all big. She hit a jumper in the paint with 3:13 to play, and went 3-of-4 at the foul line in the final 2:19.
Skinner was the offensive catalyst early, scoring eight of Armuchee’s 16 points in the first quarter.
Boozer scored two big baskets in the second quarter, and Burkett contributed a key basket in the third.
“(The girls) just played so well together,” said Arp. “I was coaching as hard as I could on the sidelines, but they were coaching each other on the floor.”
Arp, who was a star player for the Lady Indians from 1997-2001, said she will now add Friday’s game to her long list of Armuchee-Model memories.
“I have been apart of this rivalry for as long as I can remember,” said Armuchee coach Michelle Arp. “And it still has that same feeling of intensity. It’s just fun.”