The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta’s girls basketball team began the state playoffs with a 58-51 win over Hillgrove on Tuesday evening at the VHS gym.
The Lady Wildcats built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, then held off a late rally by the Lady Hawks to advance to the second round.
The Lady Wildcats improved to 22-5 with the win. They will face either Alcovy or East Coweta in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs on Friday.
“It feels good to get back to the Sweet 16,” Valdosta head coach E.A. Wilcox said. “I’m proud of my girls for their effort today.”
With 1:26 left in the first half, Valdosta trailed 22-21 after a three-pointer by Hillgrove’s Tene Thompson. But that would be the Lady Hawks’ last lead of the night.
After Stormm Phillips’ jumper gave Valdosta the lead again, Wilcox changed defenses, going to a full court press, and in a span of 14 seconds, Shaneika Smith and Tiaera Phillips both stole the ball in Hillgrove’s end of the court and scored. Stormm Phillips’ free throw with 1.9 seconds left in the half was Valdosta’s seventh straight point, and it gave the Lady Wildcats a 28-22 halftime lead.
Valdosta’s run continued in the second half. Destiny Covert scored twice in the first 1:01 of the third quarter. Then Stormm Phillips drove to the basket for a layup. Thompson hit a jumper for Hillgrove, but at the other end of the court, Valdosta got the ball inside to Covert for a basket. Covert made a jumper, then Tiaera Phillips made two layups in a span of 18 seconds, increasing Valdosta’s lead to 42-24.
In a span of 5:27, the Lady Wildcats had gone on a 21-2 run, and they had turned a one-point deficit into an 18-point lead.
But the Lady Hawks weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Hillgrove star Mackenzie Engram scored six points in the final 3:22 of the third quarter and Zarriah Pierce drained a three-pointer. Those points helped the Lady Hawks cut Valdosta’s lead down to nine, 44-35, at the end of three periods.
Hillgrove continued to trim its deficit in the fourth quarter. A 9-2 run brought the Lady Hawks within three points, 51-48, with 1:55 left in the game. Then Covert missed an open layup, Hillgrove got the rebound and Engram scored to make it a one-point game, 51-50, with 1:28 left on the clock.
But that was as close as they would get. Hillgrove pressed, but Valdosta beat the press and fired a long pass down the court to Covert. This time, she made the layup, giving Valdosta another three-point lead, 53-50. Engram made one of two free throws, but Kaneshia Kimbrough answered with two free throws for Valdosta. A Hillgrove three-point attempt was too long and went out of bounds, then Smith’s free throw gave the Lady Wildcats a 56-51 lead.
A few seconds later, Stormm Phillips was fouled and missed both of her free throws, but then she stole the ball back, got fouled again and made one of two shots with 16.4 seconds left. Then Covert grabbed a defensive rebound with 4.6 seconds left and sealed the victory with a free throw, making the Lady ’Cats final margin of victory seven points, 58-51.
The teams’ free throw shooting kept the game close. Hillgrove was 11 of 13 from the free throw line, while Valdosta struggled from the line for the second game in a row, making just 8 of 25 shots.
Covert was Valdosta’s leading scorer, with 17 points. Tiaera Phillips scored 13 points and Stormm Phillips added 12 points.
Engram, one of the state’s top junior forwards, scored 24 points for Hillgrove on Tuesday. Thompson added 12 points.
Valdosta’s boys team will play its first round game today at 4 p.m. at Hillgrove, which is located in Powder Springs, a city in northwest metro Atlanta.