The Tift County Lady Devils were unable to secure their 20th win of the season Saturday against the Valdosta Lady Wildcats, losing 56-42, but the Blue Devils had better luck. Riding the high-flying offense of Tadric Jackson, they took the Wildcats out of the game early, sailing to the 63-46 victory.
The Lady Devils went in at a disadvantage, two key players being out with injuries. Brecklyn Greene, usually the first to be summoned off the bench did not play and worse, starter Brakia Bateman had to sit out as well. Coach Julie Conner said that Bateman injured her neck during warm-ups and Conner said she did not want to risk her playing.
Though Valdosta won the tip, Tift would be the one to strike first in the girls contest. One minute into the game, Alexis Johnson scored to make it 2-0. Forty seconds later Staceyanna Murrell made it 4-2. That would be their last lead of the night. Valdosta scored the next two baskets to make it a 7-4 game and soon had the Lady Devils doubled, 12-6. Dee Dee DeShazer’s basket cut the margin to three, but at the end of the first, the score was 14-9, Valdosta.
Valdosta kept their margin throughout the second quarter and used their defense to keep Tift at bay and were up 25-20 at the break. Tift finally caught a spark in the third quarter when baskets by Johnson and Jessica Savage reduced to the lead to three, but were unable to catch up. The lead was soon pushed to 10 on a shot by Shaneika Smith and then 12 at the end of the quarter, 40-28.
The teams would trade baskets in the fourth and Johnson’s free throws cut the margin down to 10 midway through the period, but they could come no closer and Valdosta took secured the top slot going into this weekend’s Region 1-AAAAAA tournament, 56-42. Johnson was the only Tift player in double figures, scoring 20. DeShazer finished with seven and Dail Adaway six. Valdosta, who pushed their mark to 20-4, were led by Stormm Phillips’ 12. The Lady Devils finish the regular season at 19-6.
If Saturday’s game had been limited to the first two minutes, the Wildcats would have had the win. Clarence Smith scored the game’s first basket to make it 2-0. A D.J. Bryant free throw cut to 2-1, then he nailed a three to make 4-2. Valdosta would tie it at four at 5:30, but then the Devils’ offense began to move. Over the next three minutes, they outscored the home team, 8-0 and Valdosta could not recover. They did whittle lead down to five near the end of the first, but that would be as close as they would come the rest of the night and the score would be 16-9 after the first quarter.
The Wildcats would face dual issues in the second. Their long-range shots refused to fall and the short-range game of Tadric Jackson was on fire. He scored 12 points in the quarter, including slam dunks on back-to-back steals that made the score 35-13, the second being a 360 degree reverse jam that drew big cheers from both sides. At the break, it was 38-15.
The Cats would outscore Tift, 20-10 in the third but they were still down 13, 48-35, heading into the final period. It would then become the Brannen Greene show. Greene, who by his usual scoring standards, had been bottled up so far, exploded for 10 in the quarter and finished with 20. His three-pointer made it a 20-point lead, 61-40, and allowed Dr. Eric Holland to insert his bench and relax as the future Devils closed it out, 63-46.
Jackson was the game’s high scorer, his 22 barely outpacing Greene’s 20. Ladarius Stewart had 10. For Valdosta, Smith finished with 16. Tift is now 21-5 on the year and head into the region tournament as the No. 1 seed.
In rankings released Sunday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Blue Devils retained their No. 1 position in Class AAAAAA.