After a long wait, Columbia County put three teams into the Georgia High School Association Class AAAAA Girls State Basketball Tournament Saturday night.
After seeing the tournament delayed three days due to weather, Greenbrier High School, Grovetown and Evans won in the opening round of the Region 2-AAAAA Girls Basketball Tournament, advancing to Monday's semifinal round and earning a berth in the state competition.
Lakeside, the No. 4 seed from subregion 2A was the only county team not to advance, falling to subregion 2B No. 1 seed Northside, 53-13.
There was little separation between the first three seeds from Columbia County and it showed. After the Lady Panthers' loss started the day, No. 2 Grovetown beat No. 3 Houston County 53-47, No. 3 Evans beat No. 2 Warner Robins 65-47 and No. 1 Greenbrier took down No. 4 Jones County, 50-34.
The bottom line was winning, but for the three teams moving on, it wasn't always pretty. Grovetown and Greenbrier both came out sluggish in their respective contests and had to battle to the end. The Lady Knights jumped out to a 16-2 first-quarter lead before Warner Robins closed the gap to 26-19 by halftime. The Lady Knights put the game away in the third quarter, however, outscoring Warner Robins 23-15.
Grovetown head coach Jaime Echols was just happy that his team won and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since the 2010-2011 season in which they went 25-3.
"We're in now and hopefully we won't play as tight in the next round," said Echols. "Thank goodness this is over,
Alayah Canteen was a freshman on the last state-qualifier, and after Houston County cut a 19-point halftime deficit to one point heading into the fourth quarter, Canteen said she wouldn't let her team lose.
The Lady Warriors' senior drilled the last of her four 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter, giving her team breathing room, and they made enough plays down the stretch to win.
"It feels great and we lost to them my freshman year, so I was like we have to beat them this time," said Canteen, who scored a game-high 21 points.
The Lady Warriors (19-6, 8-2 region) started out slow, but hit their stride in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Bears 20-8, taking a 31-12 lead at the break.
The Lady Warriors were scoring getting out on the break and draining shots from the outside, but that momentum didn't translate to the second half.
The No. 3 seed Lady Bears (5-20, 2-5) turned up the defensive pressure, outscoring the Lady Warriors 21-3, cutting their deficit to 34-33. Each time the Lady Bears made a run in the fourth quarter, the Lady Warriors had an answer, however, including a Rashanna Porter 3-pointer with 2:40 left that gave the Lady Warriors a 49-41 lead with 2:40 to play.
Neither team shot free throws well, but the Lady Warriors' 9 for 17 effort in the fourth quarter was enough to hold the Lady Bears at bay. The Lady Warriors finished 15 for 37 while the Lady Bears were 13 for 31 from the charity stripe.
Kwajelin Farrar added 13 points for the Lady Warriors.
Justice Wright paced the Lady Bears with 19 points and Autumn Ring added 11.
The Lady Warriors will now face Northside at 3:30 p.m. Monday, who beat Lakeside on the strength of a 31-point first quarter.
Tia Williams led the Lady Eagles (18-6, 7-0) with 13 points, Jaliyah Lynch had 12 and Alexia Galloway chipped in with 10.
Amber Talley led the Lady Panthers (4-20, 0-10) with five.
The Lady Knights (17-7, 5-5 region) used a balanced team effort in beating Warner Robins. While Jasmine Stone not unexpexctedly led the way with 23 points, Elyssa Melton joined in with with 13 points while Autumn Johnson and Acacia Blue added 10 points apiece.
Stone scored eight of her points in the third quarter as the Lady Knights pulled away.
I'm proud of my kids tonight, they (Warner Robins) didn't let Jasmine (Stone) get into a rhythm early and the rest of my girls stepped up and hit some big time shots," said Lady Knights head coach Ryan Morningstar.
The Lady Knights, who will play in the state tournament for the second consecutive season, will face crosstown rival Greenbrier for the fourth time this season on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the girls' second semifinal.
The Lady Wolfpack (20-6, 8-2 region) had to brush off a shaky start to move on. They trailed Jones County (4-20, 0-7) 7-5 after the first quarter.
Morgan Taylor got the Lady Wolfpack started with a putback with one second left in the first quarter, then drained a 3-pointer to open the second as the Lady Wolfpack took their first lead at 8-7. While Taylor started things off, scoring 12 of her game-high 15 points in the first half, Destiny Marshall came on strong at the end, scoring all of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.
With the outcome still in doubt, leading 40-34 at the 1:44 mark, Taylor and MArshall combined to salt away the victory. Taylor sank the first of two free throws, Marshall rebounded Taylor's miss and put it back while getting fouled and sank her free thow for the traditional three-point-play. Taylor then came up with a steal and layup as the Lady Wolfpack stretched the lead to 46-34 in a 28-second span.
Lady Wolfpack head coach Stefanie Basinger was more relieved than anything after the game.
"The girls found a way to win," said Basinger. "They knew they weren't playing well at all. "It wasn't one of their best games and hard to get offense going, but they hunkered down and did the things they knew they needed to do to win."