Fayette sophomore center Naomi Franco admitted that she was a little tired after playing nearly the entire game against Bainbridge High School. However, she wasn’t going to let fatigue stop her from making an impact in the state playoffs.
Franco finished with 12 points and was dominant in the interior for the Lady Tigers. She controlled the paint and swatted multiple shots at the rim. Fayette needed every point to outlast Bainbridge 42-39 on Wednesday night. With the win, the Tigers advanced to the Class AAAAA Elite Eight.
“It feels great and I wanted to do well for my team and my seniors,” Franco said. “I feel like they deserve it and they worked hard all four years. I am happy to help get them there.”
Franco was one of several bright spots for the Tigers. She got the start after Fayette head coach John Strickland wanted to utilize more size against a tough Lady Cats front line. Fayette relied on her activity from the opening tip as she blocked four shots on the night.
“She hadn’t started in a while, so I started her tonight and she came through big,” Strickland said.
One of her biggest highlights was a nifty block on Bainbridge senior Tytianna Roseborough late in the fourth quarter. As Roseborough rose for a 3-pointer, Franco leapt high and swatted the shot out of bounds. The block brought the crowd to their feet, but more importantly, it preserved a 35-31 lead for the Tigers.
The defensive stop became a crucial play in the game. Fayette would hold off Bainbridge after junior guard Sidney Sims hit a layup in the final seconds to seal the victory.
“She gave us a huge lift tonight,” Strickland said. “She has been working really hard and she is just a sophomore. The sky is the limit for her.”
Fayette needed everyone to slow down the Bainbridge offensive attack. The Bearcats continued to batter the Tigers on the perimeter with open 3-pointers. In the first quarter, Bainbridge used two 3-pointers to spark a 10-2 run.
Bainbridge held a slim 12-8 advantage throughout the quarter until Fayette senior guard Maegan Barkley hit a couple free-throws to tie the game at 12-12 heading into the second quarter.
Both teams would continue to counter each other in the second quarter. The defensive intensity picked up as each team combined for just 11 points in the frame. Bainbridge guard Nadia Marshall was responsible for 5 points as she helped Bainbridge take a 19-16 lead into halftime.
However, it was after intermission that Fayette started to lock in offensively. They made several key adjustments to stop the momentum of Bainbridge. Senior guard Trinity Brown started to heat up with 4 points in the quarter. She finished the game with 12 points and took on the defensive task of slowing down Marshall.
Marshall had just 10 points after halftime and that sliced into the Bainbridge game plan according to Strickland.
“What we were trying to do is to stop their penetration,” Strickland said. “We knew we had to do that as Marshall is very elusive and Roseborough was driving, penetrating and kicking. We wanted to stop some of that stuff. If we did so, we had a chance to get some shots to go down.”
As a result, Fayette took control of the glass and jumped out to a 29-27 lead going to the fourth quarter. In the final quarter, the Tigers held on thanks to a 16-12 run to end the game.
“It is awesome and especially for my senior group,” Strickland said. “For them to be able to do that and it is what they wanted. We got farther than we got last season as we lost this game last year. Now we got a chance to be in the Elite Eight.”
Fayette’s next game will be a road matchup against Villa Rica in the Elite Eight.