by Rob Grubbs
It was back to business for everyone in Region 3-AAAAA Tuesday night. With basketball season just past the halfway point, every game has serious implications in the standings. On the girls’ side, Coach Emily Sweeney’s Starr’s Mill Panthers (11-4) traveled to Fayette County (6-11) in need of a win to keep pace with Griffin. Only 28 points from the 1,000 mark, junior Alice Anne Hudson poured in 20 in the 51-33 victory to keep the Lady Panthers undefeated in region play.
Fayette County’s veteran head coach John Strickland has worked all season to find the right rotation in his starting lineup. Utilizing a four-guard lineup, the Lady Tigers spread the floor and looked for opportunities for their quick ball handlers to shoot threes or make drives and cuts to the basket. Kamille Carpenter opened the game with a 3-pointer, but the Panthers converted three 3-pointers of their own on the way to a 12-8 first quarter lead.
Tiger senior guard Sydney Sims, who has been the one constant in Strickland’s lineup all season, kept her team in the game throughout the second quarter when she scored in the paint and passed back out to teammates on the perimeter. When Derique Donigan drilled a three off a Sims assist, the Tigers retook the lead with four minutes till the half.
Hudson began to heat up, hitting a 3-pointer of her own to regain the lead for the Panthers who went the locker room up 22-18 at intermission. They would put the game away in the third, as Hudson scored 10 from the outside which opened the inside for Jaclyn Hester and Ryanne King who took full advantage during a 16-2 run that left little doubt of the outcome. On defense, senior guard Alyssa Angelo took back-to-back charging calls to energize her teammates.
With a lot of attention going to Hudson and Angelo, junior Ashtyn Lally did a lot of the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, along with a team-leading 8 assists.
“Ashtyn is the best ball handler on our team and she has stepped up into the role really well,” said Sweeney.
Along with Hudson’s 20 points, Hester added 11 points and 16 rebounds. For the Lady Tigers, Sims had 12 and Ghylissa Knowles chipped in 9.
The Panthers have a key game for first place on Saturday night when they travel to Griffin to take on the Bears.
In the night cap, Andre Flynn’s Tigers (15-2) looked to avoid a let down coming off their dramatic win four days earlier against Sandy Creek in which they hit 14 three-pointers. The Starr’s Mill Panthers (7-9) are starting to put things together under first year coach Charlemagne Gibbons, having won four out of five games over the Christmas break and looking poised for a stretch run.
The first quarter was a preview of the game ahead. The Tigers were not making their 3-pointers, and both sides were sharper on defense than offense. Starr’s Mill’s 6-foot-7 senior Nate Allison had a couple of blocked shots early, but the second quarter became the Jamaine Mann show. He scored on four consecutive possessions, a lightning fast spin move for a basket with the and one, an offensive rebound put-back, another drive and layup, and a resounding dunk. His prowess on the offensive side gave the Panthers a 25-20 halftime lead.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair, but unfortunately for the Panthers, Mann picked up his fourth foul and had to tone down his aggressive play. Tigers took advantage as they slowly grew a one-point lead to start the fourth into an eight-point lead with two minutes remaining. Ricky Knight hit his fourth three of the game early in the frame as the Tigers pulled away and finished with a 57-46 win.
“It was a dog fight, Starr’s Mill pushed us, they did a good job, but I like how we responded in the second half, what we were able to do,” said Flynn. “Sometimes we may not be at our best, but we found a way. We played hard and attacked more.”
Josh Dupree and Terrell Bradley led a balanced Tiger scoring effort with 14 each, while Mann had 13 for the Panthers along with 11 from Allison.
The win keeps the Tigers in sole possession of first place with a big game against Jonesboro coming up next Saturday, January 19. They have already beaten the Cardinals on the road by two, and another win would put them in good position for the region tournament.
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