The Augusta Christian Schools girls' varsity basketball team was in trouble late in Tuesday night's season-opener at the Lions Den.
Augusta Christian Schools' students Jenna Cockrell and Daniel Jones died in a car accident before the school year.
The Lady Lions trailed Curtis Baptist by two points with 13.4 seconds left to play, and the Lady Crusaders had possession of the ball.
Then Curtis committed a turnover on the in-bounds pass, and the stage was set for Sarah Madebach.
The sophomore guard had scored only one point and was having a miserable time during her varsity debut, but in the final, frantic moments of regulation, she experienced a moment of clarity.
"When I got the ball I was really nervous," she said. "Then I started to dribble and I got this awesome feeling."
Sarah drove into the lane, hit the game-tying shot and jumped sky high with excitement.
Augusta Christian went on to outscore Curtis 9-2 in overtime to earn a 65-58 victory.
The win appeared unlikely, but the Lady Lions had something - or someone - special on their side.
Credit the comeback to No. 33.
Sarah was wearing that jersey number in tribute to Jenna Cockrell, who was killed in automobile accident just before Augusta Christian began the 2001-02 school year.
Jenna wore No. 33 last season as a freshman basketball player with the Lady Lions. This year, the players are wearing commemorative patches on their travel uniforms with her initials and number.
Before the opener against Curtis, Augusta Christian unveiled a framed jersey bearing Jenna's number which will be displayed near the gymnasium entrance.
Meanwhile, joining the AC players on the sideline was another memento - a stuffed Lion adorned with the name and number of the departed teammate.
"One of the things her mom said to me at the hospital after the accident was to save Jenna a spot on the bench," AC coach Jodie Price said. "I think that parents of kids who pass away fear that we'll forget their child. We want to make sure we honor the Cockrells by not forgetting."
Augusta Christian sophomore Staci Airaghi is the official caretaker of the Lion keepsake.
"I feel like it's her presence with us," said Staci, who clutched the Lion close during time-out huddles and then tightened her grip when the game got to crunch time Tuesday..
With the stuffed Lion on the bench and with Jenna in their hearts, Staci said she believes the dramatic finish was meant to be.
"I felt like she was watching over us and wanted us to win," she said.
For Sarah to hit the key shot, and to do it with the only bucket in her first varsity game, might have been more than a coincidence.
Some might call it divine intervention, or maybe just the magic of No. 33.
"Jenna was my best friend and this is the first season without her," Sarah said. "It was so emotional to see her jersey and to wear her number. In my mind I was thinking, 'Play this game for Jenna."'
The Lady Lions all played for Jenna, and they didn't play to lose.
"Just to think what Jenna would have done - she would have been so happy for Sarah," Price said. "It's just a fitting way to start our season, especially with us wanting to dedicate the season to Jenna and her parents."
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