Woodland girls’ season ends at Mary Persons

By Jonathan Heeter

Special to the Daily

FORSYTH — Kurt Greene wasn’t thrilled with the shot choice.

With his team’s lead teetering between double and single digits with four minutes to play Tuesday against Woodland, the Mary Persons coach grimaced when KeKe Calloway pulled up for a 3-pointer very early in a possession. Greene can live with normal 3-pointers from his talented sophomore, but this one came right as Mary Persons regained some momentum. It also came from about seven feet behind the 3-point line.

As Calloway let it rip, Greene threw up his hands as if to say, “What are you thinking?” As the ball splashed through the net, Greene had a sheepish smile cross his face. He turned to the crowd, laughed and pumped a fist.

“She knows when we need her, and she’s never scared to take a shot,” Greene said.

Calloway’s 3-pointer buried Woodland, and her 27 points helped send Mary Persons to a 75-60 win and the school’s first trip to the Final Four in the modern era of Georgia High School Association basketball. The Bulldogs (26-2) played in the semifinals in 1962 and 1966, but only eight teams made the playoffs then.

Aleah Holden added 20 hard-fought points inside and Kendria Buckner scored 15 for the Bulldogs.

Mecca Sneed led Woodland with 16 points, and Lindsey Reed and Nicole Findura each scored 15.

“This is what we have worked for, to keep playing basketball,” Calloway said. “But we’re not satisfied.”

Mary Persons will play Sandy Creek at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fort Valley State. Columbia, last year’s Class AAA champion, and Jonesboro are in the other semifinal.

While her 3-pointer effectively ended Woodland’s chance to win, Calloway did much of her damage at the start of each half.

The sophomore guard scored 10 points in the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the game, draining a 3-pointer as the Bulldogs took an early nine-point lead.

After the Wolfpack rallied to close the gap, Calloway went to work at the start of the third quarter, racking up another 10 points in the first six minutes of the second half.

After a five-point spurt, Calloway pushed the Bulldogs to a 16-point lead.

“I don’t think we ever get worried when KeKe is shooting,” Holden said. “You don’t ever think she takes a bad shot because she makes most of them.”

If Calloway provided the spark at times, then Holden was the Bulldogs’ foundation.

She thrived early at keeping second and third chances alive with offensive rebounds. As the game wore on, Holden used her speed to get around the taller Woodland defenders for baskets. She also has good body control and a solid understanding of using shot angles off the backboard to her advantage.

With Woodland trying to make it a single-digit game at the end of the third quarter, Holden stole the ball following a missed shot and made the short basket while drawing the foul. She made the free throw — she went 8-of-9 from the foul line in the game — and the Bulldogs led by 14.

“She’s just a beast,” Calloway said.

Woodland (26-3) got as close as eight in the fourth quarter, but the Wolfpack weren’t getting back on defense and began trading baskets for layups as the Bulldogs broke their press.