ANY MEANS NECESSARY: Brunswick girls overcome adversity to topple Woodward Academy, advance to Elite 8

Feb. 26—It's always darkest before dawn — and things got pretty gloomy for the Brunswick High girls late in their second-round matchup against Woodward Academy.

A few minutes after a lengthy delay during which Pirates senior Ja'Mya West had to be taken off the court on a spine board stretcher, Brunswick found itself trailing 39-28 with fewer than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But suddenly playing for more than a trip to the Class 6A state quarterfinals, Brunswick rallied to stun Woodward Academy 53-48 on Friday in a battle between top 10 teams.

"Today was an emotional roller coaster," said Brunswick girls head coach Maria Mangram. "I don't want to say, 'As bad as we were playing,' but once I looked up and I saw the score, I think one score I was stuck on was like 22-27, and in my mind I'm thinking: Here you have two teams who normally score like 60 points, and here we are in the third quarter. I thought it was such a low-scoring game, which means to me both teams were playing great defense.

"The girls were able to not get rattled and stick with each other, and they were just able to come together. Tonight was a great team unity win for us."

Even before the scary incident in the second half, the No. 6 Pirates found themselves facing plenty of adversity against the No. 4 War Eagles, who stormed out to an early 9-2 lead fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from senior Sara Lewis.

A Georgia Washington commit, Lewis entered the game averaging 17.5 points for the two-time reigning Class 5A state champion, and she proved to be a thorn in the side of Brunswick on both ends of the court all night. The 6-foot-1 forward scored a game-high 23 points and took eight charges alone to contribute to a frustrating night for the home team.

The Pirates were whistled for six fouls within the first four minutes of the contest, and 13 in the first half. By the end of the game, there had been 52 total foul calls — 30 going against Brunswick.

"The calls were the calls, as a coach though, I felt like I wasn't able to coach them as far as how to figure out how they were calling," Mangram said. "When it came to certain calls, it wasn't consistent. So it was kind of hard as a player to adjust to when the calls are everywhere.

"But I felt like, as a unit, we stuck it out, toughed it out, and we did what we were supposed to do."

With the fouls piling up, the Pirates were forced to turn to their bench early and often. Region 2-6A Defensive Player of the Year Shané Jackson was limited to 17 of 32 possible minutes, and two-time Region Player of the Year Shamya Flanders only played 20 as Brunswick cycled through 10 different players on its roster.

As it turned out, that was the spark the Pirates needed.

Dariana Johnson's pull-up jumper snapped the War Eagles' 9-0 run, and a few minutes later, Shakylan Pinkston knocked down a free throw that tied the game at 9-9 headed into the second, where Pinkston continued to come up big for Brunswick.

The Pirates' third big in a rotation with Jackson and Flanders the last two seasons, Pinkston stepped into the void created by the early foul trouble and delivered the final seven points of the second quarter for Brunswick to keep the team afloat as it went into halftime trailing 22-20.

"Kay Kay went to work today," Mangram said with a smile. "She was ready to play."

Pinkston finished with a team-high 14 points for Brunswick as the only scorer in double digits, and beyond the stat sheet, her ability to bang with the bigs in the paint, as well as handle the ball against a Woodward Academy defense pressuring full court, was invaluable.

The War Eagles harassed the Pirates the length of the court from the opening tip, and the frenetic pace resulted in a mess of turnovers.

"Even when the game started, we were turning the ball over, and we didn't even have to turn the ball over," Mangram said. "Unforced turnovers; just throwing it from out of bounds to out of bounds. Tonight we had 29 turnovers, which is, I don't even know."

Woodward Academy's pressure put a premium on ball handling, and Brunswick found a lot of success downsizing, which allowed the team to better space the floor on offense and get out to shooters on the other end of the floor. The War Eagles only made one 3-pointer in the second half after splashing five over the first two quarters.

Instead, Woodward got to the line to build upon its lead in the third, where the team would shoot 13 free throws courtesy of 10 Brunswick fouls in the period. The Pirates continued to fight — a pair of buckets by West sandwiched around a basket by freshman Regan Hicks keeping the team to within four points at 32-28 around the three-minute mark in the quarter — but seconds later West would go down in a collision with Lewis that would require emergency medical services.

West would remain down on the court for nearly an hour before being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but she has since been discharged.

However, after both teams warmed up and play resumed, it appeared Brunswick's collective thoughts were still with their teammate as Woodward quickly expanded its advantage to 11 points as time wound down in the period.

The Pirates trimmed the deficit to 39-31 entering the fourth, though it looked like the team might finally run out of gas. Flanders was still scoreless on the night, and Jackson hadn't gotten back on the board since scoring four points in the opening quarter.

Instead, Brunswick jumped into its press to spark one final push with Shania Jones and Pinkston combining to score seven straight points to claw the team back to within 40-38 just two minutes into the fourth.

"We've preached to them all year, when somebody is not going, somebody has got to step up," Mangram said. "We can't just say, 'Oh well, if Maria doesn't get all the baskets, we're going to lose.' No, it doesn't work like that. Somebody is the next man up."

A few seconds later, Flanders received an inbounds pass and sank a turnaround push shot in the lane to score her first points of the game and tie the score. Following a Woodward Academy timeout, Brunswick took its first lead since 13-12 early in the second quarter on another basket in the paint by Pinkston to a roar from the crowd at Brunswick Square Garden.

Feeling the Elite Eight within their grasp, the Pirates' stars showed up to take the game home — baskets by Flanders and Jackson capping an 18-3 run that had Brunswick up 46-42 with just two-and-a-half minutes remaining.

"In practice we do situation drills where they're down 20, they're down 15, or different numbers where they have to fight back," Mangram said. "So we were able to just come with each other and fight through all that even though we were down.

"What I liked tonight was that, because we were down, we never stopped playing."

Of course, never did Woodward Academy, which had one last gasp, tying the game at 48-48 on a pair of free throws by Lewis with 50 seconds to play, but Flanders came down on sank the go-ahead shot on the ensuing possession.

The War Eagles turned to Lewis next time down the court, but Jackson and Flanders combined to turn her over, and the latter pushed the ball down the court before finding Jermiyah Ramsey underneath the basket in transition for the dagger.

It took all Brunswick had to hand Woodward Academy its first loss in the state playoffs since February 25, 2020, but it was an experience that should serve the Pirates well as the program looks to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2016.

"This type of game early on will definitely prepare us for whatever else will be thrown at us."

Brunswick is set to host Sequoyah in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs at 6 p.m. Tuesday.