Takeaways from Prattville Christian's AHSAA southeast regional win vs Montgomery Academy

Nick Alvarez
Montgomery Advertiser

The final tenths of a second had yet to tick off, but Prattville Christian's Chelsea Mulliner couldn't repress a smile. Neither could her teammate CoCo Thomas, who beamed behind her palm. Them, along with the roaring white-and-purple-clad fans in Garrett Coliseum, celebrating a bit of PCA history. 

When the buzzer sounded, Prattville Christian had defeated Montgomery Academy, 57-56, in the AHSAA Class 3A Southeast Regional final. The Lady Panthers outscored the Eagles by eight in the fourth quarter, rallying behind Ella Jane Connell (23 points). 

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"I think it took us this whole season to mature enough to make the plays when they counted the most," PCA coach Jason Roberson said. "... When it comes down to it, we were just one point better when it matters the most. We'll take it."

Here are takeaways from Prattville Christian's win: 

Prattville Christian players react after winning the AHSAA class 3A regional final game at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Prattville Christian defeated Montgomery Academy 57-56.

Sixth time is the charm 

During practice this past week, Roberson made sure "4.6" stayed on the scoreboard. 

That's how many points, on average, the Lady Panthers had lost to Montgomery Academy by in their prior five meetings this season. Roberson wanted his young team to believe in its chances, despite facing a top-ranked Eagles squad with six seniors. 

"'That's two to three possessions, ladies. That's two to three made shots. Two to three more sprint backs,'" Roberson said to his team. ".. I think they bought into that." 

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MA coach Reg Mantooth said the Panthers dropped their forwards, Hannah Jones and Thomas, lower defensively, but other than that the game plan was the same for both sides. In the second half, the Eagles rallied behind Chloe Johnson (20 points), She drove the lane with little hesitation and found open forwards when PCA sent double-teams. 

Connell took over late, throwing a loose ball off MA's Madi Caddell out of bounds with PCA trailing. She then near scored on two straight possessions. In the game's final minutes, PCA applied more on-ball pressure defensively too, hoping to force MA into bad shots. 

Prattville Christian's Chelsea Mulliner (24) takes a jump shot during the AHSAA class 3A regional final game at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Prattville Christian defeated Montgomery Academy 57-56.

Supporting cast delivers

Connell's heroics couldn't have been done without PCA's supporting cast, a group that's developed throughout the season and took some of the scoring responsibility away from Connell. 

The emergence of Thomas and Jones was apparent from the start, with both cleaning up possessions on the glass and getting put-backs. The pair combined for 20 points and 27 rebounds. Mulliner hit three 3s and Avery Rogers avoided a few traps in the final frame. 

Roberson only played a non-starter for two minutes on Tuesday afternoon, compared to MA, which had an eight-player rotation. Each PCA starter had to contribute to the win. And they did. 

Mantooth has a tougher challenge in second year 

In his first year, Mantooth didn't disappoint at Montgomery Academy. The Eagles were the top-ranked team in Class 3A for the entire campaign and lost to just three teams — two of which, PCA and Class 7A Vestavia Hills, are still playing. 

Mantooth implemented a new defense meant to swarm to the ball and force off-ball movement. Led by Johnson, Caddell and Leighton Robertson, MA was able to pressure teams and create scoring runs all year. It happened in the second half as two guards matched Connell along the perimeter, drawing a cross-court pass and eventual steal. 

Prattville Christian's Ella Jane Connell (2) goes up for a floater at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

Yet in year two, Mantooth will need to replace six seniors: Caddell, Robertson, Anya Thomas, Gabby Ramirez and Ann Cobern Chapman. Johnson will be back for her final season. 

"They all have a ton of experience and a ton of confidence," Mantooth said. "... I think they laid the foundation. I think we'll be better than people expect us to be."