STORY BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTOS BY WHITNEY JARRELD
The Drive for Five was within reach, but it disappeared in a flurry.
Briarcrest went on a 16-2 run during the final five minutes to win the Division II-AA title with a 65-54 victory over Brentwood Academy at Allen Arena on Saturday.
That denied BA (25-7) an unprecedented fifth consecutive state championship as the Eagles settled for a runner-up finish.
“It hurts, like, bad,” Eagles guard Marcus Fitzgerald said. “I mean, we had a chance to do something nobody has ever done and we couldn’t get it done. We’ll be striving to get here next year and be holding the gold ball.”
BA’s Randy Brady tied the score at 49 on a layup with 4:49 left before Briarcrest (29-2) went on a tear to win its second state championship.
BA’s girls met a similar fate, surrendering a 16-1 run late in a state-title-game loss to Ensworth two hours earlier.
“We started off fast, but the second half it just didn’t go our way and at the end of the game,” Brady said. “It’s still a great season. We didn’t finish it how we wanted to, but we still fought hard so that’s all we can ask for.”
BA and Ensworth are the only schools to win four consecutive state titles. BA did it twice from 2003-06 and 2015-18 and Ensworth did it once from 2011-14.
Fitzgerald led the Eagles with 18 points despite dislocating his left ring finger with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Brady, a Mr. Basketball finalist, added 16 points.
BA led 37-30 at halftime after shooting 55-percent from the field in the first two quarters
But Briarcrest held the Eagles to under 10 points in each of the last two quarters.
“The game was a lot closer than the final scored indicated,” Eagles coach Hubie Smith said. “I thought we played great the first half, probably as good a half as we played all year. We couldn’t catch Kennedy Chandler — guy is so fast.”
Chandler, the tournament MVP, led all scorers with 20 points, including an 8-of-9 showing at the foul line.
Marcellus Brigham, a 6-foot-6 guard, added 18 points and 6-5 forward Omari Thomas scored 14, including an 8-for-8 effort at the free-throw line.
The Saints shot 56-percent from the floor, including 9-of-13 shooting in the second half.
“We had a really tough schedule this year and I told the kids, ‘Guys, I didn’t think you’d win 15 games this year,’” Saints coach John Harrington said. “I really didn’t and it wasn’t because they weren’t any good. It was because of the schedule we had.”
Briarcrest tied a school record for wins and broke a school mark for fewest losses with their tenth-straight victory.
“This could be the greatest team to ever come through the halls of Briarcrest,” Harrington said.
Briarcrest also made a 17-0 run in the second half of its semifinal win over Ensworth on Thursday.
The Saints outscored the Eagles 23-7 at the foul line.
“I’m going to be real with you, at the beginning of the year I would probably go 2-for-10 (at the foul line), but then we worked on it at practice every day,” Thomas said. “At practice before you leave, you’ve got to make 10 free throws. Coach is getting on me all the time about keeping your elbow tucked, keeping it up under you and then let it go.”
The Saints call Harrington the Shot Doctor.
The loss ended the Eagles’ 14-gme winning streak and 13-game win streak in the state tournament.
“I thought we got a lot of good looks in the second half and just didn’t make them, and I thought that was really the difference,” Smith said. “We couldn’t guard them down low and they got us in a little foul trouble and pounded it down low. It was a very physical game. At the end, we just could not get a stop.”