Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

February 26, 2014

Home sweet home

Vikettes remain at home against Blue Devils in quarterfinal

VALDOSTA — The Lowndes girls basketball team wasn’t expected to win the Region 1-AAAAAA tournament.

But the Vikettes are certainly enjoying the fruits of that labor now. Today, Marietta will visit in a Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal in Lowndes’ third straight home playoff game.

“We’re ready to just keep fighting,” first-year Vikettes coach Brittany Ferguson said Monday night after Lowndes edged Hillgrove, ranked No. 4 in the state, 78-77 in overtime.

“I can’t wait to go in and tell them that we’re one of just eight teams left in the state. That’s big.”

The Vikettes, who are 21-8, have reached the quarterfinal behind stellar senior Tashia Brown, a Western Kentucky signee. Brown led Lowndes with 27 points and 10 rebounds in Monday’s win, including hitting the game-winning basket with 19 seconds left in the extra period.

But Brown is one of just two seniors on the Lowndes roster, joined by starting guard Tierra Barnes. The rest of the Vikettes playing key roles in their current six-game winning streak have been sophomores. That leads to moments both good and bad.

Lowndes struggled to close the first quarter as it allowed a 17-7 lead turn into a 20-17 deficit by turning the ball over on its final six possessions. The Vikettes, who led the entire second half, went cold for three minutes late in the fourth as Hillgrove rallied from a 66-61 hole with four minutes to play to grab a 69-66 lead with less than two minutes left.

“They make you look good and they can make you look like you haven’t coached a day in your life,” Ferguson said of her young players. “But that’s experience. What kind of experience are we going to have next year with that. They can look back and learn from it, ‘That’s what happened when we didn’t run our press break.’”

But the Vikettes learned and kept playing. Sophomore guard Taffany Smith poured in 24 points as she drilled four 3-pointers. She also hauled down six rebounds. Sophomore forward Faith Starling finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, including an offensive board in the waning seconds of regulation that led to a foul and the tying free throw with less than a second left. Sophomore guard Di’era DeLoatch scored seven of her nine points in the second half and blocked Tene Thompson’s shot with less than a minute left in overtime to keep Lowndes down just one. Thompson led Hillgrove with 29 points and seven rebounds.

“We’re young and you want to talk about something that’s inspiring for a first-year coach, some of your big role players are sophomores,” Ferguson said. “(Taffany) can just shoot it. I talked to her at halftime and I just looked at her and she laughed. I let her launch those, and that’s why. She can nail them. She can flat-out nail them. But it’s one of those shots that it’s a bad shot if you miss it, because you can always go closer.”

Those young Vikettes will get another learning opportunity today against the 21-8 Blue Devils, who beat Tift County 56-47 to earn their quarterfinal berth.

“These girls haven’t been to the Elite Eight before, but (Marietta) is a program that has been a number of times,” Blue Devil coach Ken Sprague, whose daughter Courtney plays for the Valdosta State women’s team, told the Marietta Daily Journal following Monday’s game. “We’re going to go down there and do what we do, we’re going to play tough defense and hopefully hit enough shots to get a win.”

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