VALDOSTA -- No doubt about it, the Lady Wildcats came to play Friday night.
Valdosta High's girls played as well as they had all season, and routed archrival Lowndes 60-38 Friday at the VHS Gym.
With the win, Valdosta (14-8, 5-5) moved just a half-game behind Lowndes for third place in the region. Valdosta's regular season is over, while Lowndes travels to Colquitt County at 7 p.m. today.
Last time the teams met, the sight of the crosstown rivals in their gym got Lowndes fired up. This time, it was Valdosta that got fired up for their rivals.
Valdosta played quite possibly its best game of the season, especially on defense, where the Lady Wildcats gave the Vikettes very few uncontested shots, and prevented Lowndes from ever truly finding its rhythm. Valdosta grabbed an early lead, and never let up the rest of the game.
All of which made Valdosta's coach very happy.
"I don't know what happened, but I like it," a smiling VHS head coach Deidre Williams said. "They came here to play. It was a beautiful thing.
"If we can play like this every night, I think we can compete with these other teams in the region."
Baskets were hard to come by early on, as each team played tough on defense. The teams combined for just four field goals in the first quarter. But two of those four came early in the quarter from Valdosta's Freda Davis, who scored inside off an Elis King pass 69 seconds into the game and nailed a three-pointer 80 seconds later.
"(Our players) picked up their defense big time," Williams said. "They did the things I've been asking them to do all year long.
"It was just an overall defensive effort on behalf of the whole team. For the first time (all season), all five players were doing something positive at the same time, and it paid dividends."
Later in the period, Ashley Gaitor made a free throw and a three-pointer, giving Valdosta a 9-0 lead. Lowndes was shut out until Markeisha Close's three-pointer with 23 seconds left in the period, which made the score 9-3 Lady 'Cats at the end of one quarter.
The teams traded baskets early in the second quarter. But then Valdosta, leading 15-9, got hot. Davis hit an inside jumper, then King stole a pass and raced downcourt for a layup. Jessica Moore made two free throws, then Davis hit a three-pointer and Reshema Arnold scored on a jumper.
When the dust settled, Valdosta had gone on a 13-0 run, and led 26-9. Lowndes would never get within 12 again. Valdosta took a 27-13 lead into halftime.
The Lady Wildcats picked up where they left off in the second half. Valdosta scored eight of the first 10 points of the third quarter, making it a 20-point lead, 35-15. Valdosta's lead remained 20 points, 43-23, heading into the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, Valdosta put together one last run, scoring eight straight points to gain its biggest lead of the night, 60-36, in the final minute.
"One of my former players told me (this team) was peaking at the right time. That sounds about right," Williams said. "If they wanted to wait to do it, this is the best time."
Valdosta's top three scorers carried most of the scoring load again Friday. King led Valdosta with 22 points. Davis scored 14 and Moore added 12.
Miaie Williams led Lowndes with 10 points Friday. Close added eight. No other Vikette scored more than four.
Lowndes also lost three players to injuries. In the final seconds of the first half, center Currie Powers fell hard to the floor grabbing a loose ball. She lay on the floor for about three minutes, and had to be helped off the court. She did not return. In the third quarter, Marlie Williams injured her ankle, and while she left the floor under her own power, she did not return. Close limped off the floor in the fourth quarter.
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