Valdosta Daily Times

December 23, 2012

No. 10: Two region hoops titles for TitleTown

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — In the 2011-12 basketball season, both of the Region 1-5A titles ended up in TitleTown.

Valdosta’s boys basketball team and Lowndes’ girls team won the region tournaments in Tifton in February. The Wildcats defeated Tift County 66-65 in the championship game, while the Vikettes outlasted the Valdosta girls, 50-48.

New Valdosta boys head coach Antonio Haynes had a great first season, after taking over for his mentor and former coach, Rufus McDuffie (who gave up coaching after being named the principal at Valdosta High School). Haynes led the Wildcats to a 23-6 record, and a region championship.

“It feels wonderful,” Haynes said after winning the region title on Feb. 17. “The kids, they deserve it. I call them my blue collar crew, but they really play hard. They played hard for me tonight in a much-deserved win.”

The championship game of the Region 1-5A tournament was a memorable one. Tift was the defending region champions and the regular season champions, and the region tournament was being played on their home court. But Valdosta was the only 1-5A team that had beaten Tift in region play, winning 56-53 a week before the teams met again in the finals of the region tournament, and the Wildcats were riding a seven-game winning streak heading into the game.

Valdosta led most of the region championship game, but Tift hung close throughout.

Valdosta started the game with a 9-2 run, but Tift rallied and took a 17-16 lead early in the second quarter. But the Wildcats answered with a 13-6 run, regained the lead and headed to the locker room with a 32-24 halftime lead.

Early in the third quarter, Valdosta extended its lead to 12 points, 36-24. But Tift responded again, going on a 16-4 run and tying the score at 40-40. The teams traded baskets for the next four minutes, and the score was tied 48-48 with 6:42 left in the game.

Then the Wildcats scored on four straight possessions, and took a 60-51 lead with 2:36 left in the game. But Tift answered once again, scoring six straight points to cut Valdosta’s lead to three, 60-57, with 1:12 left to play. Valdosta’s Dominique Bullock and Tift’s Tadric Jackson both made two free throws.

With 10.6 seconds left, Bullock was fouled and made two more free throws, extending the Wildcats’ lead to 66-61. At the other end of the court, Jackson also made two more free throws, then Tift forced a turnover and scored, making it 66-65. But then the buzzer sounded, and the Wildcats were the region champions.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Haynes said. “I told them they were a         wonderful ball team, but we made plays tonight. Luckily, we came out on the winning end tonight.”

Terrance Foster scored 21 points for the Wildcats in the win. Bullock added 14 points. Valdosta made nine three-pointers in the victory. Jackson scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half.

The Wildcats wound up making it to the second round of the state playoffs.

Lowndes’ girls team went 25-4 and won the region championship. But it wasn’t easy. Valdosta gave its crosstown rivals a battle in the finals of the region tournament.

With 7:23 left in the game, the Vikettes trailed by 11 points, 41-30. But then they suddenly got hot. Kenya Durden’s field goal started a 10-0 run, which cut their deficit down to one, 41-40. Five different players scored during the run. Later in the quarter, Tashia Brown’s two free throws gave Lowndes a 47-46 lead. LaPorchia Bridges answered with a basket to put Valdosta back on top, 48-47.

With 13 seconds left in the game, and the Lady Wildcats still holding a one-point lead, Lowndes passed the ball to Brown. The sophomore forward took a jump shot, and the ball went through the hoop, giving the Vikettes the lead again, 49-48.

Valdosta got the ball with a chance to win the game. But Lowndes’ defense forced a turnover. Danyelle Jones, Lowndes’ senior point guard, made a free throw with 1.1 seconds left, making the final score 50-48.

Brown led the Vikettes with 19 points in the title game. Stormm Phillips scored 16 points for Valdosta.

The game was tied 12-12 after one quarter. Valdosta went on a 10-0 run early in the second quarter, and took a lead it would hold until the fourth quarter. The Lady Wildcats headed to the locker room with a 27-19 lead, and led 37-30 at the end of the third quarter. But then Lowndes got hot in the fourth quarter, and rallied for the victory.

The victory was Lowndes head coach Shan Garner’s 200th career win as a head coach. He had a career record of 170-57 as Lowndes’ coach entering the 2012-13 season. He also won 31 games as the boys head coach at Echols County before coming to Lowndes in 2004.

“You can’t ask for three better scenarios (than getting your 200th win against Valdosta in the region championship game),” Garner said afterwards. “The only thing better than that is to know you have healthy kids and a place to go home to. It is unreal. That is unbelievable. That was a heck of a ballgame.”

Lowndes reached the championship game with a 55-52 victory over Tift County in the semifinals. Valdosta beat Colquitt County 55-51 in the semis.

Lowndes and Valdosta both wound up making it to the second round of the state playoffs. Garner and Haynes were chosen as the Region 1 Coaches of the Year.

Along with Lowndes and Valdosta, the Brooks County girls and the Lanier County boys also claimed region championships.

The only difference was the Lady Trojans and the Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four in their respective GHSA classifications.

Led by Valdosta State signee Jasmine Mapp, the Brooks County girls finished the season with a 24-7 record, including an undefeated in-region record. The Lady Trojans lost to eventual state champion Buford, 70-37, in the state semifinals.

The Lanier County boys featured a bevy of seniors and finished the year with a 26-5 record and as champions of Region 2-A. The Bulldogs lost to Whitfield Acdemy, 75-62, in the state semifinals.