PENDLETON — The importance of Tyra Ford and Staisha Hamilton to the success of Anderson is obvious. What may be hidden in plain sight is a valuable third member of the Indians team in senior Erin Martin.
When she was saddled with foul trouble Friday night, the Lady Tribe’s quest for a second straight Madison County Girls Basketball Tournament championship was becoming questionable.
But with her on the court, Anderson made history.
Martin scored 17 points in support of huge games from Ford and Hamilton and proved to be a steadying presence in a time of need as Anderson held off a tough challenge from Lapel 68-53 to claim back-to-back titles.
It was the sixth title overall for Anderson and the second in a row, making this Indians team the first to repeat in school history and the first repeat champion since Pendleton Heights won three in a row from 2009-11.
“I didn’t know that. That’s interesting,” Anderson coach Shannon Cleckley said. “(Lapel) deserves a lot of credit. They weren’t hitting shots early, but they stayed the course. We stayed focused and did what we had to do to finish the deal. It’s a great honor to be representing the county.”
The first quarter was a nip and tuck battle with Anderson taking a three-point lead into the second quarter.
After Lapel junior Delany Peoples hit a pair of free throws to pull the Bulldogs within 14-13, a three-point play by Martin sparked a 14-0 Indians run. Consecutive Ford baskets, a 3-point shot by Martin and a Hamilton layup highlighted the run, which led to a commanding 18-point halftime lead at 35-17.
The defense of the Anderson guards was key to holding Lapel to just 17 first-half points.
“Having Erin and Staisha on their point guards and best players, they can usually hold it down,” Cleckley said. “It makes the other team work harder.”
Anderson remained in control through much of the third quarter until Martin picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench. With her out of the lineup, the Tribe committed four straight turnovers, and Lapel finished the period on an 8-0 run to start the fourth down just nine at 44-35.
But, with Martin returning in the fourth, the Bulldogs got no closer than nine points the rest of the way. The Indians were 14-for-18 in final stanza to keep the Bulldogs at Bay.
Hamilton finished with a game-high 21 points while Ford just missed a 20-20 game with 20 points and 19 rebounds. Martin also grabbed eight rebounds as Anderson (8-9) controlled the glass by a 51-36 margin.
“We needed to continue to attack” Cleckley said of the second half. “We were able to hit some free throws. I was happy that we hit the ones we did when we needed to.”