Harlem High School's girls basketball team made its final season before the Columbia County student population shift a strong one.
After securing the school's first playoff berth since 2000, the Bulldogs won their first playoff game, beating Mount Zion-Jonesboro 49-20 on Feb. 27 in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Becky Taylor, who runs the Georgia High School Basketball Project, said the playoff win was Harlem's first in five tries dating back to 1972.
Many of the Lady Bulldogs have been rezoned for Grovetown High School, which opens in August.
"It's great," Harlem coach Amy Slagle said of the playoff win. "We're all excited."
Harlem's reward was a six-hour trip to play Bainbridge on Tuesday. The Bulldogs got there after avoiding a late charge from Mount Zion.
Mount Zion coach Dock Gammage said he wanted his team to try to outrun the bigger Harlem team. Harlem's concentration was on setting off-the-ball screens on offense, something it had worked on during practice earlier in the week.
"The first quarter was a little sluggish," Harlem senior Chancellor Martin said. "We just listened to (Slagle), calmed down and ran our plays."
Slagle's team overcame a strong individual effort from Mount Zion guard Tierra Newell. After Harlem had pushed its lead to 17 to start the second half, Newell started hitting shots. She finished the quarter with 16, all of her team's points, and trimmed Harlem's lead to seven entering the final quarter.
"She tried to will us back," Gammage said.
Harlem scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter and the final 11 to coast into the second round.
Slagle said during Harlem's regular season she was worried the region competition would not prepare her team for the rigors of the state playoffs. After seeing one out-of-area opponent, she said she feels her team is in better shape.
"I'm definitely seeing our weaknesses against stronger teams," Slagle said. "I think it's a good thing. I don't think they played to their potential tonight. If they do, they can turn it on anybody."
Boys Class AAAAA playoffs
Valdosta 78, Greenbrier 51
At Valdosta, Ralph Weldon scored 12 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead Valdosta, the top seed from Region 1, into the second round. Greenbrier earned a state playoff berth after beating Newton on a last-second shot in the first round of the Region 2-AAAAA tournament at Newton High School.
Boys Class AAAA playoffs
Jonesboro 45, Evans 38
At Jonesboro, the Knights dropped their third consecutive game and were bounced from the Class AAAA playoffs. Jonesboro was the No. 1 seed from Region 1. Evans was the fourth seed from Region 3.
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