PREP BASKETBALL: Arab falls to No. 4 Pleasant Grove in 5A State Finals 53-36

The Arab Knights fell to No. 4 Pleasant Grove 53-36 in Saturday morning’s 5A State Championship Game to finish the season as the Class 5A State Runner-up. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After topping Brewbaker Tech in the final moments of Wednesday’s 5A State Semifinals, the Arabian Knights were back on the court at Legacy Arena Saturday morning to face No. 4 Pleasant Grove in the 5A State Championship Game. The score was knotted at 9 after the first quarter but the Spartans outscored the Knights 23-8 in the second to build a 32-17 lead by halftime and continued pulling away in the second half to collect a 53-36 win over Arab and this year’s 5A State Title.

Knights Head Coach Brad Kitchens is proud of the year his team put together and the effort they played with Saturday.

“I’m proud of the girls, they played their hearts out. We came up a little short, but it wasn’t because of effort. I’m as proud as I can be of them and what we accomplished this year,” Kitchens said. “We’ve played some physical teams this year and we’ve played some quick teams this year, but I believe that was the best, most well-rounded team we’ve played. They were physical and quick, and they were just tenacious.”

Both teams started the opening period slow offensively until Bennett Elrod knocked down a jumper to give Arab a 2-0 lead. Bryleigh Bodine scored on the next possession to keep the Knights in front 4-2 and Sydney Ferguson laid one in midway through the first to maintain a 6-4 lead. Pleasant Grove pulled ahead 9-6 later in the quarter but Bodine split a pair of free throws and Lexi Mann scored at the buzzer to tie the game at 9 going into the second quarter.

Pleasant Grove got hot early in the second, taking off on a 12-0 run to take a 21-9 lead over the Knights. Laney Kelley split a pair of free throws and Lily Livingston laid one in to make it a 25-12 game with three minutes remaining in the half. Livingston added a free throw later in the period and Bodine and Mann each drained a pair of foul shots in the final two minutes of the quarter but going into the locker room at halftime, Arab trailed the Spartans 32-17.

The Knights came out firing in the third quarter, cutting into the lead with a pair of baskets from Kelley and Elrod to make it a 33-20 game. Elrod buried a three from the left corner to make it 35-25 and after Pleasant Grove answered with a three on the other end, Ferguson netted a pair of free throws to hold the lead to 38-27. The Spartans added one more bucket before the end of the period and went into the fourth quarter leading Arab 40-27.

Kelley drilled a three-pointer early in the final frame to trim the Pleasant Grove lead to 46-30 and Ferguson knocked down a pair of free throws midway through the fourth to make it a 51-32 game. Another Ferguson basket cut the lead to 53-35 with less than a minute to play on the clock and Makensey Stanfield added a pair of free throws later in the period but those were the final points of the game for Arab and the Spartans went on to win this year’s 5A State Title 53-36.

Ferguson led the Arabian Knights with eight points in the loss, followed by Elrod with seven and Bodine and Kelley with six. Elrod and Bodine each earned 5A All-State Tournament Team Honors as well.

Reaching the State Finals was the goal for Kitchens and the Knights from the time the season tipped off and he’s more than proud of the way his team bought in and worked to make it happen.

“It meant the world to me. At our banquet last year, I talked to those seniors and told them they laid the groundwork last year to get us back to where we want to be. Going into this year at the very beginning this was our goal,” Kitchens said. “We felt like we could get here. We played a very tough schedule and didn’t always have the best record, but we got here at the end and had a good season.”

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