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SHS, Claxton girls chase titles

    The regular season didn’t end as the Statesboro girls basketball team envisioned, but now comes the chance to achieve the goal that the Lady Blue Devils have had in mind all season.
    At 7 tonight, the Lady Blue Devils (26-2) will host Lee County in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
    The game will mark the first time that the Devils hit the court since suffering their second loss of the season. After cruising through its region schedule undefeated for the second straight year, last week saw Statesboro travel to Richmond Hill for the Region 2-AAAA tournament. The Devils won their first two games convincingly, but were upset, 57-50, by Richmond Hill in the tournament final.
    “Obviously, we were a little disappointed with the way (the region tournament) went,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “We went in there thinking and expecting that we could win it. Things didn’t go that way, but if you’re going to lose a game late in the season, that’s not the worst one we could have picked to lose.
    “(The loss) might help us a little bit with our focus. When you win all of the time, you can get a little too used to it. No one in the state tournament is going to just let us win. We’ve got to be prepared.”
    With the loss, Statesboro took a No. 2 seed in the state playoffs. The Devils are matched up against the Lady Trojans, who earned the No. 3 seed out of Region 1-AAAA. As the higher seed, the Devils will host tonight, but could be looking at long road trips for the rest of the playoffs.
    A team that has travelled all over the state to find quality competition, the Devils won’t mind that one bit, so long as they remain alive in their quest for a state championship.
    Adding to the pressure of the do-or-die state tournament is the fact that this season marks the final chance for the Devils’ accomplished senior class to attain the ultimate prize.
    Having reached the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons, this is the last time that Alisia Jenkins, Sierra Kirkland, Ericka McDade, Shanice Walker and Aneisha Drummer will set out on a title run.
    “I’m not nervous, but I’m a little anxious,” Kirkland said. “We know what to expect and how to handle everything. We just need to be sure to play our best and make it count.”
    “Alisia and Sierra are moving on (to play collegiately)” Seier said. “As for the rest, this might be their last few games. I’m sure that they want to go out on top.”
    Claxton new to state playoffs
    While Statesboro has as much playoff experience as any team in the state, the Claxton girls will have a whole new experience on their hands. In the state playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Lady Tigers don’t have a single player who has been to the state playoffs.
    After dropping the Region 3-A title game to Calvary Day on Saturday, Claxton took a No. 2 state seed and hosts No. 3 seed Marion County at 7 tonight.
    “It’s good that we get to start off at home,” CHS coach Laura Aziz said. “None of our girls have been to the playoffs before, but I have confidence in our abilities.”
    Fueling that confidence is the completeness of this year’s squad. While the last few seasons have seen just one or two main scorers, a handful of seniors — and one very talented freshman — have emerged to pose problems for opponents this season.
    “Jazimine Price has really been great for a freshman,” Aziz said. “She has gotten better and better this season and is someone we can count on.
    “Brittney (Ponder) has given us quality scoring along with Polly (Murray), and Mariah Morgan is a huge part of our success even if she doesn’t have huge numbers. If teams try to shut one of them down, we have others getting the job done.”
    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.