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Holiday Tourney: Wilder's three-pointer send Dragons past Woodland into finals

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Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and other times it doesn’t.

Thursday night, the ball bounced in favor of the unde-feated Pepperell Lady Dragons with a finish that will be re-membered in Lindale for many years to come.

Trailing 57-55 with six seconds left against Woodland in the semifinals of Holiday Festival, the Lady Wildcats headed to the free-throw line for two shots.

It looked like the Lady Dragons were going to receive their first loss of the season and also fall to the third place game.

Woodland missed both free throws, Pepperell grabbed the rebound and Erin Wilder drove the ball down the court.

Wilder launched a deep three-pointer with hands in her face as time was about to expire and everyone watched in si-lence as the ball bounced.

The ball bounced, and bounced, and bounced a few more times before falling through the hoop to give Pepperell the 58-57 victory.

The Lady Dragons and their coach failed to find words to describe the game-winning shot.

“I can't even explain how this feels,” said Wilder. “Words can't describe it. It's unreal and amazing.”

“Wow. I don’t know what to tell you,” said Pepperell coach Judson Cox. “It bounced and bounced and it felt like it bounced forever then it fell in.”

“It felt like it was slow motion,” said Anna Kate Rickman. “This feels unreal. It's amazing.”

Erin Wilder finished the game with 14 points, and her younger sister Madison had a game-high 24 points. Caroline Holbrook and Jacrisa Ware both had eight for Pepperell.

The win puts Pepperell at 11-0 on the season, and Cox fi-nally got to see how his team would handle adversity.

“I was really worried, because I didn't know how they would handle adversity, but now I'm very pleased,” he said. “We struggled with that it in the first quarter, but they did come together and I was very proud of that.”

Woodland led for most of the first half in a tight game that never saw either team lead by more than six points.

The Lady Dragons let the early deficit get to them early, but they never lost hope even when the game looked liked it was over.

“We got a little shaken in the first half, but once we got used to it and got some momentum, we just started playing our game,” said Erin. “We kept pushing, and we will always keep pushing.”

The win sends Pepperell to the finals where they will have a chance to make history.

The Lady Dragons are the only girls team in Floyd County to have never won a gold ball.

“It feels great (to be going to the finals),” said Holbrook, “We’ve been waiting for this all year.”

“We want (the gold ball) real bad,” said Rickman. “That's all we want right now.”

The Lady Dragons will take on Darlington, who is the de-fending champion, tonight at 7 p.m. at Berry College.

"I'm excited, and I know the girls are excited,” said Cox. “Hopefully, we'll have a good showing, and we'll see what happens."

Pepperell led 12-10 after the first quarter, but headed to the break trailing Woodland 28-26.

The Lady Dragons led 43-41 heading into the fourth quar-ter, and the teams traded baskets down the stretch until Woodland took a four-point lead with 39.5 seconds to go.

Ware hit a jumper to cut the Lady Wildcats lead to 56-54 with 28 seconds left. Woodland hit one free throw to push the lead back to three points with 26 seconds left in the game.

After a timeout and a foul, Rickman hit the second of two free throws with 8.4 left, to cut the lead to 57-55 and help setup the amazing finish.

While the Lady Dragons celebrate and get ready for the fi-nals, the Lady Wildcats saw a chance to win their first gold ball slip away.

“The girls are heart-broken,” said Woodland coach Kyle Morgan, “But we left the door open, and Pepperell took ad-vantage of that and she made a heck of a shot.

“It bounced their way tonight.”

The Lady Wildcats were led by Ayrianna Metcalf, who fin-ished with 12 points, and Gabby Bradley and Brooke Hummel each had eight points.

Woodland will take on Bartow County rival Cartersville in the third-place game today at Berry College at 4 p.m.