MOULTRIE -- When Lowndes' boys meet Valdosta's boys on the basketball court, the result is usually a tight, hard-fought contest. Friday night's region tournament matchup was no exception.
Lowndes earned a berth in the Region 1-AAAAA tournament final with a 46-39 victory over its crosstown rivals Friday night in Moultrie. The Vikings will face Coffee in the finals today on the same floor at 8:30 p.m., with the region's No. 2 playoff seed on the line (region champion Tift County has already been awarded the top seed). With the loss, Valdosta will be the No. 4 seed and will play the Region 2 champion in the first round.
Lowndes led most of Friday's contest. But in the fourth quarter, Valdosta rallied from an 11-point deficit to tie the game, 37-37, on Robert Boyd's free throw with 2:53 left in the game. Valdosta would then have a couple of opportunities to take the lead. But ultimately, the Vikings made some key shots down the stretch, and late free throws made the victory look more convincing than it really was.
Lowndes and Valdosta traded leads throughout the first quarter. Jeremy Pittman, who led the Vikings with 21 points, and Terrence Vinson combined for nine of Lowndes' 11 first-quarter points, while Chauncey Jones carried the Wildcats, scoring all 10 of Valdosta's points in the quarter. Lowndes led 11-10 at the end of one period.
Lowndes opened the second quarter with a three-pointer from Rashawn Benjamin and a jumper from Pittman to go up 16-10, taking a lead it would hold on to until the middle of the fourth quarter. The Vikings would lead by as much as eight points, before Valdosta closed that lead to 26-21 at halftime.
Like they'd done in the second quarter, Lowndes opened the third on a run. Benjamin made a three-pointer, Jarvis Broughton hit a jumper, then Shahee Thomas scored inside. The 7-0 run made it 33-21 Vikings. Valdosta got late three-pointers from Boyd and Shawn Kier, and found themselves down 35-27 going into the final quarter.
Then Valdosta staged its comeback.
Boyd opened the quarter with a three-pointer. After two Vinson free throws, Cedric Hill scored under the basket, then 10 seconds later, VHS stole the ball and fed the ball to Carlton Williams. Williams was fouled shooting the ball, and converted both free throws, making the score 37-34 Vikings.
Lowndes turned the ball over, and Boyd tried a three-pointer, but the shot rimmed out. Valdosta got the ball back, though, and Darius King banked a shot off the backboard as he was being fouled. A free throw would have tied the score, but King missed. On Valdosta's next possession, Boyd grabbed a miss and was fouled. Boyd missed the first shot, but his second shot bounced off the back of the rim and through the net, tying the score, 37-37, with 2:53 left to play.
At that point, both teams clamped down on defense. Coaches Cliff Ranew of Lowndes and John Miller of Valdosta have combined for over a half-century as head coaches, and place a great emphasis on defense. For the next couple of minutes, whichever player had the ball, he found himself guarded tight by at least one, and sometimes two or three, defenders. Both teams had chances to take the lead, but missed their shots.
Finally, with 1:58 to go, Lowndes beat the Valdosta press, and Pittman fed VInson on the run down by the goal. The 6-foot-7 Vinson leaped and sent the ball through the basket with a monster dunk, giving Lowndes the lead back, 39-37.
With the lead, Ranew opted to play zone defense, and the Vikings clogged the inside, giving Valdosta open three-point shots but preventing them from getting the ball down low to post presences Jones and Cedric Hill. Valdosta tried a pair of threes, but missed both, and Lowndes got the rebound, which led to a turnaround jumper by Thomas.
Pittman and Boyd traded free throws, making the score 43-39 with 1:03 to play. Valdosta kept firing when it found an opening, but the shots wouldn't fall. The Wildcats, running out of time, were forced to start fouling, and Pittman made 4-of-6 free throws in the final minute to help seal the victory.
Pittman led all scorers with 21 points, while Vinson contributed 12. Jones led Valdosta with 14 points.