Tifton Gazette

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February 27, 2014

Devils are Atlanta bound

TIFTON — Dr. Eric Holland said this week that this was the game he and the Tift County Blue Devils had prayed for: a second shot at the state's final four in Atlanta.

They are the ones celebrating Thursday night. Despite only four players scoring, despite Kyle Castlin lighting up the scoreboard for 27, they defeated the Hillgrove Hawks, 56-47.

Georgia Tech is the next destination for the team. They will be playing in Atlanta Saturday at 4:45 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion against Norcross, who defeated Berkmar 49-45, according to Score Atlanta.

It had been a tight, low-scoring game for 3.5 quarters before the Blue Devils were finally able to explode.

Tadric Jackson, who not only did not start, but missed the whole opening quarter, darted down the left side and hit a short jumper to increase the lead to 38-29.

Antonio Wade knocked down a free throw and Tift came up empty on their possession. Then Hillgrove lost control on their end and Jackson sprinted down the floor in anticipation. The feed was perfect and Jackson stuffed the ball through the hoop.

Seconds later came another steal and a Ladarius Stewart layup. The lead was now 12 and the crowd that the Hawks had tried their best to keep silent was now erupting with chants of "final four" and "Georgia Tech."

Castlin refused to let his team down. He scored 13 in the 4th, but time and momentum belonged to the Devils.

D.J. Bryant hit his 5th 3-pointer. Jackson had a reverse dunk. The Hawks tried fouling, but even when Tift missed, they could not hit anything for their side. As the clock ticked down its final six seconds, it was Jackson who threw the ball up in celebration.

The crowd seemed to be a big objective for Hillgrove. They played the first quarter with a very deliberate pace. B.J. Brown was the first man to score, two minutes into the game. Bryant had the first Devil basket, a 3-pointer at 5:29. It was only their third possession. The first two had ended in turnovers.

Bryant would make another basket at 1:05, but by that time the Hawks had taken a 9-6 lead, which would take the sides through the end of the quarter.

Tift began forcing a more uptempo pace in the 2nd, aided by Jackson's presence. Bryant gave them the lead 2.5 minutes into the period. Keith Ray would tie it at 11, then Jackson's shot with two minutes left put the Devils up by two. It would increase to five when a tip by Hayden Mullinax to Preston Horne turned into a Stewart bucket and a 16-11 halftime advantage.

Castlin started the 2nd half on a 8-2 run to give Hillgrove its last lead at 19-18, but Jackson quickly sank one from behind the arc. A Bryant free throw and Stewart shot later, the Hawks were forced to play catch-up. They were down 29-25 at the end of the 3rd.

In his three quarters of play, Jackson had 23 points. Bryant finished with 17 and Stewart had 12. The other man to score was Preston Horne, who had 4. Castlin was the only man in double figures for Hillgrove. Brown scored 8 and Ray had 7. The Hawks did not shoot any free throws in the first half, with their first attempt coming with 1:16 to play in the 3rd.

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