Tuesday night served a greater purpose than simply moving on in the region tournament for Bulloch Academy’s girls basketball team.
For the 11th season in a row, BA is going to the state playoffs. It’s the longest active streak in Bulloch County, and it’s been since 2006 that the Lady Gators were ever in danger of missing the dance. However, any ill fates were avoided when BA beat Edmund Burke 61-54 in the GISA region 2-AAA play-in game Tuesday evening at Gator Alley.
“I thought our kids responded really well to that pressure,” said head coach Paul Webb. “We tried to avoid the talk all together of this being a do-or-die game.”
Senior MiKay Sands doesn’t know basketball without the state playoffs. The fifth year player is a two-time state champion and has come accustomed to playing in late February. This season was the closest she’d ever come to staying at home during the playoffs, and by the way she played it was clear Sands wasn't interested in knowing that feeling.
Sands finished with a season-high 34 points with six rebounds rebounds to boot. Considering she’s the only senior on a team of mostly freshman, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Webb has come to lean on her in games like these.
“She came up huge for us,” Webb said. “Her and Abby Newton were able to hit some big shots for us down the stretch.”
On BA’s fourth possession Sands was fed in the post, putting up a miss then grabbing it right back for a lay-in plus a foul. She’d sink one of her nine free throws on the night to put BA ahead 5-2 early. She’d go on to score eight of BA’s next 17 points in the first quarter, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 down the stretch of the quarter.
However after scoring 25 points in the first quarter, BA slowed up and netted just five in the second quarter, allowing Edmund Burke to close the gap from 25-9 to 30-19 by halftime. BA shot a mere 1-for-7 in the second quarter, needing free throws to push them over to five points.
“With a young team, when you get up 25-9 in the first quarter you can get a little too comfortable with a lead,” Webb said. “I think it was a good learning tool for us moving forward.”
The third quarter saw Sands come back into form, helping push BA ahead with the advantage still sitting delicately at 11 points at 36-25. It was with 4:49 left in the quarter that BA started to feed Sands again, and she’d score seven points in a row on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting to extend BA’s lead to 43-25 before Edmund Burke hit a three to cut off the run.
The momentum stalled going into the fourth quarter, as BA allowed Edmund Burke to score 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting in the final eight minutes. However, the original first quarter surge by BA allowed the lady Gators enough breathing room to walk away with a win.
It was a far cry from the last meeting between the schools when BA only mustered 28 points in Waynesboro in what was a critical loss that put them in the region tournament's play-in game to begin with.
The night was one of the best offensive outputs BA has produced all season, with 61 points standing as a season high while shooting 19-of-38 from the field for an even 50 percent clip. Abby Newton scored 17 points to back up Sands’ effort as the duo combined for 52 of BA’s 61 points. Sands added five blocks on the night as well.
“I think our previous high scoring was 55,” Webb said. “It’ll be good for us to have that kind of rhythm going forward, because from here on out it’s all about surviving to advance.”
BA’s ladies will continue play Thursday when they face No. 1 seed Pinewood at 7 p.m. in the semifinals.