The Valdosta Daily Times
For the second time in three years, Tift County’s girls basketball team celebrated a region championship in TitleTown.
Tift’s girls defeated Valdosta 57-50 Friday night in the Region 1-6A title game at the VHS gym.
Tift built a big lead in the third quarter, then held off a Valdosta rally to earn the region title.
It was the third year in a row that the Lady Wildcats have finished second in the region tournament. They lost to Tift in the 2011 region title game at Lowndes High School, then lost to Lowndes in the 2012 region final in Tifton.
“Tifton has a great team. They were ready to play. Hat’s off to Tifton tonight,” said a disappointed Valdosta head coach E.A. Wilcox. “It’s very difficult to beat a team three times. We beat them twice (in the regular season), but they won the one that counted.”
The Lady Wildcats hurt themselves with mistakes on Friday. And they struggled at the free throw line, making only nine of 26 shots from the line (34 percent).
“We were outplayed tonight,” Wilcox said. “We missed a ton of free throws. ... Their intensity was much better than our intensity. We didn’t match their intensity. So we wound up losing the game.”
“I wanted to make sure (all of) the seniors left with a bang. (I wanted them to) say, ‘We won the region our senior year.’ It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get it done,” Wilcox added.
The difference in the game might have been an eight-minute stretch in the second and third quarters, when Tift outscored Valdosta 29-10.
With five minutes left in the second quarter, Valdosta held a 15-12 lead, after a 7-2 run to start the period. But then Tift took control. Staceyanna Murrell and Brakia Bateman made two free throws each, and Valdosta’s Tatyanna Randall made one of two shots from the foul line. Then Murrell made an outside shot and Dee Dee Deshazer drained a three-pointer, which put Tift ahead 19-16.
Tift’s Alexis Johnson made two free throws, then after Valdosta’s Stormm Phillips made a free throw, Tift’s Dail Adaway hit a jumper and Johnson made a layup on consecutive possessions, giving Tift a 27-17 lead. Tift went to the locker room with a 27-19 halftime lead.
Tift continued to build on its lead in the second half. After a VHS basket, Bateman made a layup, then Deshazer made a three-pointer and a layup in a 14-second span. Shaneika Smith of VHS made a free throw, but Deshazer answered a jumper. Stormm Phillips and Johnson traded three-pointers, then Valdosta was whistled for an intentional foul, and Johnson made both free throws. That put Tift ahead 41-25 with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
But Valdosta wasn’t ready to give up yet.
The Lady Wildcats got hot, and began cutting into Tift’s lead. Destiny Covert scored. LaQuesha Newkirk buried a three-pointer, then Covert made a jumper. Tiaera Phillips made two free throws, then after one of Tift’s coaches was hit with a technical foul, Covert made one of two free throws. That 10-0 run cut Tift’s 16-point lead down to six, 41-35. The score was 43-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
A few minutes later, jumpers by Tiaera and Stormm Phillips brought Valdosta within four points, 51-47, with 2:17 left in the game. After three Tift free throws, Kimbrough’s three-pointer with 58 seconds left made it a four-point game again, 54-50.
But the Lady Wildcats could get no closer. Valdosta got the ball back, but missed a jumper. Johnson’s free throw made it 55-50, then Valdosta missed a three-pointer. Deshazer’s breakaway layup with four seconds left put the game away.
Tift jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, then Valdosta answered with six straight points to tie the score at 8-8. Johnson's basket in the last minute of the first period gave Tift a 10-8 lead after one quarter.
Valdosta started the second quarter with a 7-2 run, and took the lead. But then Tift scored 29 of the next 39 points, and took a lead it would not relinquish.
Johnson led Tift with 19 points. Johnson, Deshazer (who had 15 points), Bateman (who had 11) and Murrell (who added eight) scored 53 of Tift’s 57 points.
Kimbrough led Valdosta with 11 points. Stormm Phillips added nine.
Tift will be the top seed from Region 1 in the state playoffs, while Valdosta will be the No. 2 seed. They will host the third and fourth seeds from Region 4-6A in the first round.
It was a good day for Tift basketball. Tift’s also won the boys’ region title, 88-72 over Brunswick.
Valdosta boys 59, Coffee 51
Valdosta’s boys team wrapped up the third seed from Region 1 with an eight-point win over Coffee in the tournament’s consolation game.
Clarence Smith and Rashad Lewis scored 17 points apiece for the Wildcats, and Colin Kirkpatrick added 15 points in the win.
The Wildcats were holding on to a two-point lead, 38-36, going into the fourth quarter. But then they went on a 16-4 run to start the quarter, and pulled away for the win.
Smith started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, then Kirkpatrick scored on a putback. After Coffee’s Rashad Thomas scored, Lewis made a free throw. A minute later, Valdosta’s Tra Barrett grabbed a loose ball while going out of bounds and tossed it to Lewis, who buried a three-pointer. Then Lewis drove for a layup, increasing Valdosta’s lead to 11 points, 49-38.
Coffee’s Zach Moore scored, but then Valdosta’s Elliott Ingram converted a three-point play and Kirkpatrick got the ball inside and scored, giving the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night, 54-40, with 1:20 left to play. Kirkpatrick’s basket ended the run and all but sealed the victory.
The game was close for three quarters. Coffee led 14-12 after the first quarter and 25-20 at halftime. Valdosta came back in the third quarter, and tied the score at 30-30 on Lewis’ three-pointer midway through the period. Kirkpatrick’s basket with 11 seconds left in the third gave the Wildcats a 38-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then Valdosta took control of the game in the final eight minutes.
Thomas led Coffee with 14 points. Ken White added 10.