MONTGOMERY — At 5-foot-3, Hayden Hughes is one of the smallest players on G.W. Long’s roster.
She is now one of the biggest heroes in the school’s history of girls basketball.
With time running down, the senior received a pass at the top of the key from teammate Makenna Long and fired up a game-winning 3-pointer buzzer beater to give the Rebels a 44-43 win over Geneva County Tuesday in the Class 2A Southeast Regional Tournament championship game at Garrett Coliseum.
It was only the second basket of the night for Hughes — both coming in the final 44 seconds for all five of her points in the game and the last five for G.W. Long. The game-winning 3-pointer was her only trey attempt.
“It was just the grace of God that I made that because I hadn’t shot all night and that was the only one I made,” Hughes said.
Hughes said she didn’t know how much time was left when she received the pass from Long.
The play began with 9.7 seconds left with Long driving the ball up court and to the left side of the lane only to have Geneva County’s Abby Land and Karoline Striplin cut her off on the blocks.
Long passed out to Hughes, who was at the top of the key and quickly got the shot off before the buzzer.
“Honestly, it was in slow motion when it happened, so I am not really (sure about the time),” Hughes said. “I just knew I had to shoot it and not think about it.”
The play helped G.W. Long (26-5) advance to its second straight state semifinal appearance. The third-ranked Rebels play Monday at 3 p.m. against top-ranked Collinsville at Birmingham’s BJCC Arena. Collinsville won the Northeast Regional title with a 54-40 win over Sand Rock.
Geneva County, denied in the regional finals for the second straight year by G.W. Long, finished the season 24-6.
The Lady Dawgs led 42-37 with 1:11 left following two free throws by Striplin, but they left the door open for the Rebels by missing 5-of-6 free throws in the final 40 seconds.
In between, G.W. Long’s Mary Beth Long, the tournament MVP, scored on a layup off a nice pass from younger sister Emma Claire Long and Hughes scored on a layup after Emmaline Hughes and her combined on a steal in the press.
Striplin, the University of Tennessee commitment, earned a steal on defense on a pass attempt from Makenna Long to Mary Beth Long and hit 1-of-2 free throws with 9.7 seconds left to put the Lady Dawgs up 43-41.
Hughes then delivered her game-winning shot.
“I knew my teammates had worked the whole game and they needed me to step up at that point of the game,” Hughes said. “I just didn’t think about it. I was just feeling it and shot it.”
Emmaline Hughes led the Rebels with 14 points, six rebounds and five steals. Makenna Long had 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
While she had only five points, Hayden Hughes was a key factor on defense with five steals and several deflections of passes inside to Geneva County’s 6-foot-4 Striplin. Hughes also had five rebounds and two assists.
“The entire game Hayden was a difference maker on the defensive end of the court,” G.W. Long coach Jody Hughes said.
“She created trouble for them to get the ball in to Karoline. She had several steals on inlet passes. She was covering half the court when she made those steals and still recovered back to guard her player. Even though she just had five points, she was much more of a difference maker than just the last shot of the ball game.”
Geneva County held Rebel standout Mary Beth Long to eight points off 3-of-5 shots and to seven rebounds by placing a player in front of her on defense the whole game. Anri Davis did most of the defending and Jordyn Alston also worked in front of Long, who had 23 points in a semifinal win over Samson.
“It was annoying for her to be there, but I knew I had to keep my composure and play through it,” Mary Beth Long said. “I needed to be in the game. I didn’t need to lose my mind.”
Striplin led Geneva County with 19 points and 10 rebounds. She made 6-of-10 shots and 6-of-8 at the foul line. Alston followed with 13 points and 15 rebounds. She hit two 3-pointers in the second half, including one with 2:14 left that gave GCHS a 40-34 lead.
Striplin, Charlianna Boutwell and Anri Davis earned all-tournament team honors for Geneva County along with G.W. Long’s Emmaline Hughes and Makenna Long.
The Rebels led 12-10 at the quarter and 18-17 at halftime. The game was tied at 29 entering the fourth quarter.
Both teams struggled shooting with the winning Rebels hitting just 28.1 percent (16-of-57), including a frigid 23.3 on 3-pointers (7-of-30) as Geneva County left Katie Ann Mixon and Lilly Grace Payne open for 3-point shots while sagging down on Mary Beth Long and the Rebels couldn’t make the Bulldogs pay for it.
Geneva County, meanwhile, hit just 34.1 percent overall (14-of-41) and 20.0 percent on 3-pointers (4-of-20). Striplin and Alston hit 11-of-23, but the rest of the team made just 3-of-18 shots.
The Lady Dawgs also didn’t hit free throws well, making just 11-of-21 (52.4 percent), including missing the crucial 5-of-6 misses in the final 40 seconds.