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Blue Devils sweep Liberty in opener

    It was only the first game of the season for both schools, but Statesboro and Liberty County looked to be in midseason form as they gave the crowd at the Devil’s Den a show Saturday evening.
    Jaylan Patrick scored 16 points for the Blue Devils (1-0) in his first career start and Statesboro connected on its final seven free throws as the Devils earned a hard-fought 68-66 victory.
    “It was a good game,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “I don’t know what I was thinking scheduling a good team like Liberty County first. That was a very competitive game for the first one of the season, but that’s what makes you better.”
    Statesboro appeared to be in control late in the first half, but a 16-0 run by the Panthers (0-1) tied the game at 34-34 at the break and pushed Liberty in front 40-34 early in the third quarter.
    Much of the run was due to the efforts of Panthers point guard Davion Mitchell (31 points). Mitchell hit three 3-pointers during the second quarter and canned six from long range overall to keep Liberty competitive down the stretch.
    “He’s one of the best in the state,” Hill said. “There’s not a lot you can do when he gets going.”
    Statesboro took the lead for good when Michael Salomon converted a three-point play to put the Devils up 53-50 with 5:37 to play.
    The Panthers remained within shouting distance down the stretch, but solid free throw shooting by Patrick and Myles White helped to ice the win.
    Statesboro’s girls wasted no time getting their new season off to a fast start.
    Blue Devil guard Tanice Johnson got her senior season off to a quick start with 26 points to lead all scorers and Statesboro (1-0) ran away with a 66-42 victory over Liberty County (0-1).
    “There were a lot of positives and we’re definitely happy to get the win,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “There were also places for improvement, but that’s what you’re looking for in the first game of the season.”
    With plenty of experience returning from the last two seasons, the Devils didn’t waste much time finding a groove.
    Stellar defense forced Liberty County into multiple turnovers and the Devils were able to cash in with some easy early buckets. The more Statesboro settled in, the less of a contest it became.
    Already cruising, a 16-6 SHS advantage in the final quarter left no doubt.
    The easy victory was a positive sign, especially considering that three normal contributors sat out with injuries.
    “We felt for the girls who had to play JV and then go again for the varsity,” Seier said. “I guess the good news is that we’ll get our injured players back soon and now we have some more experience with our younger players.”
    The Statesboro boys and girls will hit the road for the first time Tuesday as they travel to Swainsboro.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.