By Doug Gorman
For nearly 15 years whenever girls basketball coach A.C. McCullers looked down his bench, seated right next to him was his reliable assistant coach Greg Shook.
Shook cut his coaching teeth under McCullers' watch at Morrow High School and later followed his mentor to Clayton State University when McCullers briefly left the high school game after winning three state titles with the Lady Mustangs to coach at the college level.
In the years that have followed, McCullers has made a coaching stop at Union Grove High School and Shook at Lovejoy Middle School.
Now, McCullers is trying to turn Strong Rock Christian into a Class A power, while Shook is hoping to work some magic at two-year-old Locust Grove.
It's looks like McCullers taught his former assistant coach well.
Monday afternoon in the first meeting ever between the coaches, Shook's team defeated McCullers' Strong Rock Christian squad 33-31 in overtime.
"There's one thing you know with A.C., you have got an idea of how he is going to coach," Shook said. "You get a mindset against him, and you try to figure out some of the moves he is going to make.
"Of couse, with A.C., you never know because he is always coming up with something different that can beat you."
The game ended when Locust Grove junior Amanda Winters prevented a second overtime by grabbing a loose ball near the baseline, firing it toward the basket and hitting nothing but net at the buzzer to give the Lady Lions the dramatic victory in the first game of the Loucst Grove Thanksgiving Tournament.
The long awaited first meeting between the two men couldn't have been scripted any better.
Strong Rock built a couple of seven points leads before Locust Grove fought its way back.
Locust Grove never led in regulation. The Lady Lions went ahead for the first time in the contest after Tierra Cook hit the first shot in the extra period to give her team a 31-29 lead.
Strong Rock's Summer Thompson tied the game for the last time when she hit the Lady Patriots' last shot of the game.
"For our girls to know they just beat a team coached by, I think, one of the best coaches in the nation, that is really special for them," Shook said.
"Anytime, you beat A.C., you feel special, because it doesn't happen much."
There were several firsts during Monday's game. It was the first time the two men had ever coached against each other, it was the first victory in school history for Locust Grove after going winless last year, and it was Strong Rock's first game in the Georgia High School Association after moving up from the Georgia Indepent School Association (GISA) this season.
McCullers knew there would be no secrets between the two coaches after spending all those years together.
"I've got to congratulate Greg, they played extremly hard," he said. "They did it when they had to do it.
"We didn't hit the free throws and they did. Still, I was pleased with the way some of our younger kids stepped up when some of our older kids got in trouble because we don't go really deep, and that's the way it is going to be."
Strong Rock sezied control of the game early, building a 7-0 lead in the first quarter behind the play of Ansley Hughes and Candler Gregory. The duo handled all the early scoring for the Lady Patriots to push them out to the early lead.
Then the Lady Lions stormed back. Charoltte Woodall connected on a 3-point shot to spark the comeback and cut the Lady Patriots' lead to 7-3.
Tierra Danielle knocked down two free throws with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter to cut the lead to 7-5.
Sibahya Broderick added a basket right before the end of the quarter to tie the game at 7-all.
The two teams spent most of the second quarter exchanging baskets and the game was again tied at 13-all at the half.
Hughes caught fire in the third quarter for the Lady Patriots with five of the team's eight poins to help Strong Rock lead 22-17 heading into the final period.
Strong Rock opened up a seven-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter on Gregory's basket, but Locust Grove went on a 7-2 run midway through the fourth quarter.
Broderick was the catalyst down the stretch for the Lady Lions. Her three-point play with 1:51 remaining in regulation cut the Strong Rock lead to 29-27.
She then was fouled with 1:45 remaining in the game and hit both free throws to tie the game at 29-all.
Neither team scored again in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
Strong Rock's Gregory led the way with 11 points. Broderick finished with 10 for Locust Grove.
"We were together for a long time," McCullers said about his former assistant.
"He has learned a lot of basketball, and he has a bright future head of him. My career is about over and he's is just starting."
The coaching reunion has a couple of other interesting turns at this week's Locust Grove tournament.
Tom Murray, Shook's assistant at Locust Grove, was on McCuller's staff after McCuller's left Clayton State for Union Grove. and Doug Crane, who is now the girls coach at Our Lady of Mercy, worked for McCullers along with Shook at Clayton State.