Great teams aren’t always great. They’re just great when they have to be.
Having struggled all night, top-seeded Statesboro led No. 4 seed Lovejoy by just a point with a quarter to play, but the Lady Blue Devils hung on to notch a 52-41 win in the opening round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs.
“We probably didn’t play our best game tonight, but we played well enough to get the win,” said SHS coach Jeff Seier. “We were definitely pretty nervous at the beginning, but we got it together and made our free throws at the end.”
Trailing 27-19 midway through the third quarter, the Wildcats stormed back into the game on back-to-back 3-pointers by Yamaya Crawford. Lovejoy continued to stay on the Devils’ heels and Alexis Aikens’ 3 with just seconds to go in the third left SHS clinging to a 31-30 lead going into the final eight minutes.
Forwards Alisia Jenkins and Sierra Kirkland have led the Devils throughout the season, but it was Raven Thomas that provided the offensive spark Saturday.
With the offense sputtering early, the senior forward paced the Devil attack on her way to a game-high 15 points.
“It was tough getting our front line our there in the first half,” said Seier. “Lovejoy was playing good defense and Alisia and Sierra were both in some foul trouble that kept them out of the game.”
Both teams looked to be shaking off the nerves as neither managed a good scoring opportunity in the first two minutes.
Jenkins (14 points) finally put the Devils up 2-0 at the 5:36 mark of the first quarter, but the road continued to be a rough one for both teams as they combined for just two field goals over the first 6:53 of play.
Jenkins, Aneisha Drummer and Thomas all added free throws to push the SHS lead to 5-2 before the Devils finally got going.
Thomas notched a steal and hit a 12-footer before swiping another Lovejoy pass and finding Shanice Walker under the basket for what turned into a 3-point play to give Statesboro a 10-2 lead after the first quarter.
“Raven, Aneisha and Aniya (Drummer) did a great job for us early in the game,” said Seier. “They kept us going and then hit some shots for us late.”
The Devils extended their run to 10-0 on another Thomas jumper early in the second quarter, but the Wildcats stayed close behind and pulled within 23-13 at halftime.
As the fourth quarter began, Jenkins finally started to assert herself inside.
The junior forward scored all but three of her points in the final eight minutes as Statesboro finally solved the Wildcat press that had hampered the Devil offense throughout the night.
Walker and Jenkins each connected on free throws early in the quarter to extend the SHS advantage and another pair of foul shots by Aneisha Drummer at the 2:26 mark made it a 46-39 Statesboro lead.
Thomas put the nail in Lovejoy’s coffin seconds later with a 3-point play that got the margin to double-digits.
With the win, the Devils advance to the second round of the playoffs. Tuesday, Statesboro will host Alcovy, the No. 2 seed out of Region 3-AAAA, which defeated Hardaway Friday, 64-60.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.