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Lady Panthers’ unblemished record comes to an end at Carver

COLUMBUS – A rematch between two of the state’s best girls high school basketball teams took place on Saturday, January 18, at Carver High School in Columbus, GA.

The undefeated Lady Panthers of Americus-Sumter, ranked No. 1 in the state in GHSA Class AAAA, came into Columbus hoping to do exactly what they had done a week ago in Americus: topple the defending Class AAAA state champion Carver Lady Tigers (CHS) and keep their season record unblemished. However, though they came close to doing just that, they struggled to make the crucial baskets down the stretch and tasted their first loss of the season: a 54-46 defeat to CHS.

The Lady Panthers did what they normally do to give themselves a chance. They used their defensive pressure after made baskets to force turnovers and produce points off those turnovers, but too many missed shots on the inside, particularly down the stretch, proved to be costly. For much of the game, the Lady Panthers tried to drive the ball into the post against the taller post players of the Lady Tigers, but missed several shots on the inside. Much of that was due to the fact that the interior defense of CHS, particularly from forward Olivia Cochran, made scoring on the inside difficult. The Lady Panthers also struggled hitting shots from outside as well.

Americus-Sumter senior guard Trinity Jones pushes the ball up the court against Carver. Jones scored five points in the loss to the Lady Tigers.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

With the loss, ASHS drops to 16-1 on the season and 9-1 in the Region 1-AAAA standings. The Lady Tigers improve their overall record to 15-4 and are now 10-1 in the region standings.

Jelissa Reese led the Lady Panthers in scoring with 15 points and DeAsia Ford poured in 10. Trinity Jackson scored six points and both Tiffani Goodman and Trinity Jones chipped in five points in the losing cause.

One other big factor in this game was free throw shooting. The Lady Panthers could only make eight of 14 foul shots (57 percent).

Cochran led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 15 points and Kionna Gaines poured in 13. Diamond McGillberry very nearly cracked the double-figure scoring column as she scored nine points in the winning cause for CHS.

For all intents and purposes, the Region 1-AAAA regular season and tournament championships will be decided between these two teams. There is also the possibility that the Class AAAA State Championship might be between these two teams as well.

Americus-Sumter senior forward Brianna Pope takes a short jumper. Pope scored three points in the loss to the Lady Tigers
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Both teams went toe to toe with each other in the first half, but with 2:53 to go until halftime, McGillberry nailed a three-pointer to give the Lady Tigers a 19-14 lead. After Ford answered for the Lady Panthers, CHS dumped the ball inside to Cochran, who scored and was fouled. Cochran couldn’t convert the three-point play, but CHS had a 21-16 lead. A few seconds before halftime, McGillberry struck again with another three-pointer to give CHS a 24-20 lead at the half.

Both Reese and Ford led the Lady Panthers in the first half with six points.

Ford scored the first two baskets of the second half to tie the game at 24-24. The Lady Panthers then forced a turnover and Jackson scored on the inside to give ASHS the lead. This allowed the Lady Panthers to step up their defensive pressure. As a result, they were able to force another turnover and got a basket from Goodman to put themselves up 28-24.

However, the Lady Tigers responded with five straight points, including a three-pointer from Gaines. ASHS responded with two free throws from Goodman, but Cochran responded with another basket to regain the lead for CHS. Her basket was the beginning of a 6-0 run by the Lady Tigers, prompting ASHS head coach Sherry Harris to call a timeout with 1:55 to go in the third quarter.

Just before the timeout was called, D’Miya Beacham had been fouled and made one of two foul shots to give CHS a 36-30 lead. During this point of the game, ASHS was struggling offensively and committed a few turnovers. This allowed the Lay Tigers to build a 40-32 lead by the start of the fourth quarter.

Reese went right to work for ASHS as the final stanza began. She drove right at Cochran and was able to draw a foul. Reese made one of the two foul shots to bring the Lady Panthers to within seven. This was the beginning of a 7-2 run by the Lady Panthers. Goodman was in position to score another basket for ASHS, but slipped on the floor once she received the pass and was called for traveling.

With 3:52 to go and CHS up 43-41, Gaines was fouled and made both free throws to give CHS a four-point lead, but ASHS came right back with two foul shots from Jones to keep their deficit at 45-43 with 3:46 to go.

However, Enyshuan Jones was able to score on the inside for CHS to give the Lady Tigers a four-point lead again. ASHS tried to respond and had several chances at a basket on the inside, but couldn’t convert.

With 2:12 to go, Gaines was fouled and made both free throws for CHS, giving them a 49-43 lead. Goodman was able to bring ASHS to within five with one made free throw and Reese would later score to bring the Lady Panthers to within three at 49-46. However, they were not able to cut into the lead any further and the Lady Tigers scored five unanswered points to close out the game, along with the Lady Panthers’ dreams of an undefeated season.

The Lady Panthers will now turn their attention to their Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday game in Albany against the Monroe Lady Golden Tornadoes on Monday, January 20. Tip off for that game is still to be determined.