Destin Middle School Marlin girls' basketball team are county champs, again

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

For the second time in three years, the Destin Marlin girls' basketball team has earned the title of champions with a 42-28 win over the Pryor Pirates in the Okaloosa County Middle School girls' basketball championship game Thursday night in Destin. 

The Marlins finished second last year and took first place two years ago. 

“I’m so excited,” said Destin eighth grader Carson Fayard, who led the Marlins with 28 points in the victory. 

The Destin Marlins are county champs. Destin defeated Pryor 42-28 for the Okaloosa County Championship. Members of the team include Avery Cowles, Anabelle Shackelford, Gabby Diaz, Carson Fayard, Isa Nohrenberg, Bailey Gaffney, Kaylee McKissack, Zoe Newell, Neilya Stewart, Macie Kimball, Luci Frankfurt, Bella Riggs and Chloe Lindsay.

“When I woke up this morning I was shaking I was so nervous. But I’m so happy it’s over and I’m so happy we won,” Fayard said with a big smile on her face as she carried the trophy. 

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Late in the game, Fayard went driving to the basket and hit the floor in the same spot where she went down the week before, breaking her two front teeth. But after a trip to the dentist the day after, she was as good as new. 

“I had a little bit of deja vu,” she said, noting she wasn’t scared to make the drive. 

“No, it’s worth it,” she said. 

Eighth graders Carson Fayard and Anabelle Shackelford embrace after the win over Pryor for the county title.

Eighth grader Anabelle Shackleford was running around the floor with a big smile as well as the team celebrated. 

"Oh my gosh it’s amazing. The feeling is just like great … I love it,” Shackleford said. 

The Destin Marlins got behind early and trailed 12-6 at the end of the first and 18-17 at the half. 

“They actually took a big lead on us and we had to fight to get it back to one at the half,” said Destin Coach Susie Pierce. 

Destin's Carson Fayard goes up for a shot in the second half of play against Pryor in the title game. Fayard scored 28 points in the 42-28 victory.

Pierce had challenged the team to fight back in the second quarter and get it back, “because the third quarter we own,” she said. 

“So, we kept chipping away and chipping away and we were in foul trouble,” Pierce said, but the team got it to a one-point game at the break. 

But, as they have most of the season, the Marlins took control of the game in the third quarter. 

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Destin came out and put 10 points on the board and held Pryor to six. Fayard gained the lead for the Marlins with a long shot, then came back seconds later with an inside shot for a 21-18 advantage. Pryor scored, then Shackelford made a steal and cashed it in for a layup. Pryor came back with a bucket, then Shackelford hit a jumper. Pryor scored one last time, before Fayard cut through the paint for a basket and a 27-24 advantage at the buzzer. 

In the fourth, Pryor’s Laila Anarhein made a layup, then Fayard nailed a 3-pointer as the gym erupted for the home team. Anarhein put a rebound back for what turned out to be the Pirates' last two points of the game. At that point, Destin went on a 12-point scoring spree. Fayard went inside for two points, Shackelford followed with a basket, then Fayard cut inside again for two points. With 3 minutes to play, Fayard was fouled and went to the line hitting both shots. Shackelford, who finished with 10 total points, scored her last bucket on a fast-break. Destin slowed the game down trying to use up the clock and Isa Nohrenberg put up the last Destin basket in the final seconds. 

The team was over joyed on the floor after the win. From left are Isa Nohrenberg, Bailey Gaffney, Anabelle Shackelford and Carson Fayard.

What was the game plan that worked for the Marlins in the second half? 

“Basically, we said 'Carson go do your thing … Carson go to the basket,' and she did. She’s put so many hours of work into her game,” Pierce said. 

But the team knew they could come back in the second half. 

Members of the Destin Middle School boys basketball team showed up to cheer on the girls in their run for the championship.

"We definitely had to score,” Shackelford said. “We’ve been like owning the third quarter in every single game, so we knew we had it in us. We just had to execute.”  

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“I had this feeling that our team could come together and win it,” Fayard said. 

Nohrenberg, an eighth grader that’s been on the team for four years, said it meant a lot to win the county championship and she was quick to give kudos to Fayard. “She’s just amazing,” Nohrenberg said. 

Proud parents and fans had their cell phones out capturing the moments after Destin pulled off a 42-28 victory over Pryor for the county championship.

But in the end, “we always have the third quarter,” Nohrenberg added. 

Coach Pierce was proud of the team effort. 

“This is the sweetest set of girls I’ve ever coached. They are so kind to one another. They are so competitive and they are all super quiet fighters,” Pierce said. 

Destin's Anabelle Shackelford looks to get the ball in during the second half of play against Pryor. Shackelford scored 10 points in the 42-28 victory.

Pierce said the theme going into the championship game was “if you mess up, tighten your ponytail and try again.” 

The Marlins finished the season with a 13-1 record and tight ponytails.