VALDOSTA –– The reigning Region 1-6A champions the last three years running saw their quest for a fourth crown crushed Tuesday night.
Despite an 11-point third quarter lead, the Valdosta Lady Wildcats (12-8, 4-2 Region 1-6A) ran out of steam in a heartbreaking 39-37 overtime loss to the Lee County Lady Trojans (9-10, 2-4 Region).
"Losing what we lost last year, it's very tough with an inexperienced team," Valdosta head coach E.A. Wilcox said. "We have an inexperienced team. We finished in first place (in the region). We beat that team twice already. I already know it's tough to beat a team three times. There were a lot of things we did differently in this game and pulled away in this game, but they hit some key shots to get it back closer in the third quarter. We didn't close out very well to the shooters and they knocked down some shots.
"With all that being said, I want to congratulate Lee County. They did a very good job. They played tougher than we played tonight. At all levels, I think they played tougher than we did and they got the win. They deserved to win. When you play tougher, you don't quit, you don't give up on yourselves, the better team is going to win. The better team tonight won."
Sophomore Kennedy Snead's go-ahead layup with 52 seconds left in overtime proved to be the difference as the Trojans capitalized on a late turnover with 31 seconds left.
After Snead's basket, the Lady 'Cats went to inbound the ball but the Trojans were able to get a hand on the ball to deflect it off the knee of Gavonia Horton. Originally, the ruling was Valdosta ball but an official with a better vantage point overruled the call to rightfully award the Trojans possession.
Out of the ensuing timeout, Snead was fouled and sank both free throws to put Lee County up 39-36 with 16.4 seconds left in overtime.
Following a Valdosta timeout, Jashari Wilson drew a foul on the Trojans' Cayla Boyd with 9.2 seconds to go, but Wilson split the pair of foul shots to make it 39-37.
Needing to foul to extend the game, Paris Wright fouled Boyd with 8.3 left in the game.
What happened next made the outcome especially disappointing for Valdosta as Boyd missed both free throws and no Lady 'Cats were able to secure the rebound, leading to Horton fouling Snead with 2.7 second left in the game.
Snead missed both free throws and the Trojans again came away with the rebound as no Valdosta players impeded the Trojans from getting to the ball as time expired.
Knocking off the reigning region champions was no small feat. Snead and many of her Trojan teammates wept on Valdosta's floor after the game, soaking in what they'd just accomplished.
Jakailyn Poole led the Trojans with 11 points, before fouling out in overtime. Snead added 10 points, while Boyd hit three 3-pointers for nine points in the win.
A visibly dejected Wilcox talked about the final sequence after the game.
"I'm extremely disappointed...I'm extremely disappointed," Wilcox said, his back slumped against a hallway wall. "I think our lack of play, our lack of effort at the end of the game –– that's what I'm disappointed in. Those rebounds we could've gotten, shots that were shot that were ill-advised...it's very difficult to pinpoint one thing, because there were a lot of things that went wrong for us in that game. If I could sum it all up, turnovers, missed shots and lack of effort cost us the game."
Sophomore Essence Cody posted her 12th double-double of the season with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting to go along with a game-high 16 rebounds and six blocked shots.
As a team, Valdosta shot 24 percent from the floor, including 1-of-13 from 3-point range, and committed an alarming 33 turnovers in the game.
Though the Lady 'Cats went 14-of-22 from the free throw line, splitting two pairs of free throws in the final 2 minutes of overtime proved crucial.
"They were extremely crucial," Wilcox said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win the game. Turnover here, missed free throw there –– a lot of stuff that should've went our way. We could've won the game in many facets and ways, but we came up short. We fought hard in spurts, but we're still not there yet. We still don't know how to win big games like that."
The loss not only denied Valdosta a chance to repeat as region champions, it also put them in an unfavorable spot in the Class 6A state playoffs.
After hosting the state playoff games the last three years, the Lady 'Cats will open the 2021 postseason on the road as a likely No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
"The odds are stacked up against us, but anything can happen in the playoffs," Wilcox said. "They may play really bad, we may play really good –– whoever we play. That could be the case for us."