Sumter County MS Lady Panthers fall by one point in Deep South Conference Championship

Published 11:30 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

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AMERICUS – In all basketball games that close and hotly contested, free throws can and often do make the difference. In the Deep South Conference (DSC) girls’ championship game on Thursday night at the old Americus-Sumter High School gymnasium, there was no exception to this rule. The Sumter County Middle School Lady Panthers Basketball Team (SCMS) had many chances to win the game at the foul line against their opponents, the Lady Panthers of Radium Springs Middle School in Albany (RSMS). However, though the RSMS Lady Panthers also left may points at the charity stripe, they fell to the RSMS Lady Panthers 42-41 in the DSC title game, as RSMS was one made free throw better than SCMS on Thursday evening, January 26.

Nevertheless, SCMS Head Coach Danielle Ford was extremely proud of her team for the way they fought the entire season, as well as in the championship game.

“I’m proud of the season, that my girls have had,” Ford said. “They played an excellent game and they fought from start to finish. We didn’t quite get the outcome that we wanted, but these girls have worked hard all season. I and the rest of the coaches are all proud of them.”

Sumter County guard Chrishyiah Howard pushes the ball up the court for the Lady Panthers.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

SCMS point guard Aliyah McGarrah led SCMS in scoring with 26 points and Marley Tookes scored 11 in the losing cause. RSMS was led in scoring by Kie’Aundria Acree, who poured in 22 points. Taylor McKinzy was also in double figures with 12 points in the winning cause.

“It was a pretty tough, hard fight, but my girls did it and I’m proud of everything they overcame this season,” RSMS Head Coach Erica Hays said.

During the game, both teams went to the foul line 31 times. RSMS went 16-31 from the free throw line, while the Lady Panthers went 10-31.

RSMS took a 1-0 lead in the first quarter on a free throw by Acree, but shortly thereafter, McGarrah gave the Lady Panthers a 2-1 led with a basket. A few minutes later, however, RSMS struck back when Acree was fouled while trying to shoot a three-pointer. Acree made all three foul shots and RSMS had a 4-3 with a little less than two minutes left in the first quarter. Over the final minute of the quarter, RSMS scored four unanswered points until McGarrah made one foul shot for SCMS to cut the Lady Panthers’ deficit to 8-4 by the end of the first quarter.

Sumter County’s Marley Tookes scored 11 points in the Lady Panthers’ 42-41 loss to Radium Springs Middle School in the Deep South Conference girls’ championship game.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

SCMS quickly stepped up its defense early in the second quarter and scored a basket off a turnover, but Acree would later give RSMS a 10-6 lead on a layup. However, the Lady Panthers responded by going on a 4-0 run to tie the game at 10-10.

Over the final three minutes of the first half, RSMS went on a 7-0 run and the Lady Panthers didn’t score until McGarrah made two free throws to cut the RSMS lead to 17-12 with a little over a minute left. However, with 24.8 seconds left, Acree made one foul shot to give RSMS an 18-12 lead at halftime.

Throughout the first half, both teams had numerous opportunities to convert at the foul line, but both teams struggled. The Lady Panthers went 7-17 from the foul line in the first half, while RSMS went 6-17.

Early in the third quarter, the Lady Panthers came alive and went on a 7-0 run that was capped off with a fast break layup from McGarrah, prompting RSMS to call a timeout with a little over four minutes left in the quarter. Out of the timeout, SCMS continued its run when Marley Tookes scored on the inside to give the Lady Panthers a 21-18 lead.

During this period of the game, SCMS ratcheted up its defensive pressure and created turnovers. This enabled the Lady Panthers to score points in transition and it enabled them to get to the foul line more often. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few made free throws, SCMS could not capitalize at the charity stripe, but neither could RSMS.

With 2:01 left in the third quarter, SCMS had a 24-22 lead before timeout was called, but out of the timeout, Taylor McKinzy hit a three-pointer for RSMS, giving them a 25-24 lead.

However, the Lady Panthers had an answer when Chrishyia Howard drilled a three-pointer of her own to give the lead back to SCMS at 27-25. RSMS responded with four unanswered points to end the third quarter, but the scoring and the intensity between both teams had picked up considerably in the second half, as the Lady Panthers only trailed RSMS 29-27 going into the final quarter of this championship game.

However, RSMS turned up its defensive pressure early in the fourth quarter and forced turnovers. As a result, they took a 32-27 lead. Over the next couple of minutes, both teams fought, scrapped and traded baskets, but With a little over two minutes left, the Lady Panthers went on a 4-0 run to tie the game at 34-34, capping it off with a fast break layup from McGarrah. RSMS would take a 36-34 lead, but JaLayah Tatum tied the game for the Lady Panthers with a basket.

However, RSMS regained the lead again at 38-36 when Acree sank two foul shots.

Then with about 30 seconds left, SCMS tied the game at 38-38 when McGarrah scored again, but RSMS responded once again with two more free throws from Acree to take a 40-38 lead with 26 seconds left. At this point of the contest, free throw shooting was going to decide the outcome of this game.

On the ensuing SCMS possession, McGarrah was fouled and had a chance to tie the game with two made free throws, but she only made one of them. At the other end, however, Marian Toye made both free throws for RSMS and they had a 42-39 lead.

On the Lady Panthers’ next possession, JaLayah Tatum thought she had tied the game on a put back, but instead she was called for traveling. That turned out to be a crucial call in the game, as they Lady Panthers were running out of time.

Shortly thereafter, SCMS would get the ball one last time down 42-39 and needing a three-pointer to tie the game, but instead of trying a three-pointer, Znyiah Twenty drove to the basket and was fouled on the shot. West was able to make both foul shots with two seconds left and the Lady Panthers would have to get a steal and a basket to pull out the win.

However, SCMS was not able to get the turnover and RSMS would go on to win the Deep South Conference girls’ championship by one point at 42-41.