Southland Lady Raiders drain 14 three-pointers in first round win over Frederica Academy
Published 8:52 pm Friday, February 24, 2023
MACON – The Southland Academy Lady Raiders (SAR) put on one of their best outside shooting displays in school history, draining 14 three-pointers on their way to a 60-33 victory over the Lady Knights of Frederica Academy (FA) in the first round of the GIAA Class AAA State Tournament on Friday, February 24, at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon.
“We shot the ball really well. That’s the only way you can put it,” SAR Head Coach Eric Israel said. “When you’re making shots, you can really extend a lead and it will kind of take the breath out of the opposing team. I thought we did that. Our defense was great once again. The girls did an unbelievable job of taking the game plan and executing it to perfection on the floor, really. I’m just super proud of our team.”
The win puts the Lady Raiders (23-4) within two more victories of claiming their second state championship in girls’ basketball in the past three years. Their last state title came during the 2020-21 season when they defeated Westfield 29-22 in the Storm Dome to claim the state championship. That year, SAR finished the season at 20-3.
SAR senior point guard Morgan Weaver led the Lady Raiders with 20 points and knocked down six three-pointers. Senior guard Riley Mitchel poured in 18 points, including three three-pointers and senior guard J.C. Bailey scored 12 points on four three-pointers. Junior small forward Mary Beth Easterlin had three points on one three-pointer, senior forward Anslee Rooks and sophomore forward Gracie Burrell each had two points, as did junior center Sophia Blankenship, and sophomore guard Adler Rae Owens made one free throw to round out the SAR scoring.
The Lady Raiders took an early 3-0 lead on a three-pointer by Weaver, but both teams struggled offensively over the next few minutes of the first quarter. However, Mitchell scored on the dribble drive, was fouled and converted the three-point play on a made free throw, making the score 6-2 in favor of SAR with 4:23 to go in the quarter. More importantly though, that was the beginning of an 11-1 run by the Lady Raiders and it was spearheaded by Mitchell, as both she and Weaver would knock down three-pointers to give SAR a 13-3 lead before FA called timeout with 1:34 to go in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter, SAR had a 15-5 lead.
Over the first four minutes of the second quarter, the Lady Raiders continued to dominate and they jumped out to a 22-8 lead. Then with 2:45 to go before halftime, SAR went on a 6-0 run that was capped off by a three-pointer from J.C. Bailey.
Over the remaining minute and a half, both teams traded baskets, but with eight seconds left, Mitchell drained the third of her three three-pointers in the first half to give SAR a 37-17 lead at halftime.
Mitchell scored all of her 18 points in the first half to lead the Lady Raiders in first half scoring. In total, SAR sank eight shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
While things were clicking on all cylinders for SAR offensively, the one constant thing that has worked for the Lady Raiders throughout the season was working again for them in this game: solid defensive play. This continued in the second half as well, as the Lady Knights were held to just 16 points in the second half.
During the third quarter, the three balls continued to fall for the Lady Raiders, as they drained six more shots from beyond the arc to take a 55-26 lead by the end of the quarter. Both Weaver and Bailey each hit three three-pointers in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
In the fourth quarter, the big lead allowed Israel to get his younger players some valuable experience in a tournament setting. Both Sophia Blankenship and Gracie Burrell scored on layups and Adler Rae Owens made one of two foul shots to help salt away SAR’s 60-33 victory.
The Lady Knights end their season at 16-11. They were led in scoring by Margaret Gandy, who had 11 points.
The Lady Raiders (23-4) are now two wins away from capturing their second state title in the past three years. They will travel up to the University of West Georgia in Carrollton on Wednesday, March 1, where they will take on a very familiar foe, the Lady Panthers of Tiftarea Academy (18-5), in the GIAA Class AAA State Semifinals.
The Lady Panthers defeated Terrell Academy 39-29 in their first round game at Tattnall Square on Friday.
During the regular season, the Lady Raiders swept the two-game series against Tiftarea with a 39-35 victory in Americus and a 50-45 victory in Chula, GA. However, the Lady Panthers upended SAR 45-35 in the Region AAA semifinals. Tip off for Wednesday’s state semifinal game in Carrollton is scheduled for 6 p.m.