TIFTON — The Tift County Blue Devils allowed their fans to be nervous for a moment against the West Orange (Fla.) Warriors. They trailed early and saw their lead cut to 7 right after half, but in the end, it was too much blue and white on both ends of the floor. Once they finally rested, the score stood 81-54 in their favor and advanced to the finals in their bracket.
There was a last-minute switch in brackets. The Devils had originally been slated to face Maplewood (Tenn.) but that was switched to West Orange, who had been another team in their pool. And originally, Mill Creek was in another bracket, but they were switched to Tift's. Their 2-point win over North Florida Educational Institute means they play the Devils tonight in the final game.
West Orange was the team that came out red hot. Their first two baskets were 3-pointers and five minutes into the game, they held a 4-point lead. Far from being stunned by the proceedings, they went on their own tear. By the time the Warriors scored their next points, the deficit had turned into a 12-point lead, with six Devils scoring during the run.
For a time, the game seemed to go that way for West Orange. Down 39-29 at halftime, an opening 3-point basket by Troy Austin put them down 7, but a 9-0 run ended the threat. That would be their glimmer.
On the other hand, Tift was running on all cylinders. Tadric Jackson had 10 1st half points and D.J. Bryant had 9. Defensively, they frustrated the Warriors with full-court and halfcourt sets, drawing two 10-second violations and another 5-second call on a Jackson trap near the center stripe.
Jackson finished with 23 points and Bryant had 11. Tyrie Jackson had 9 and Ali Vaughn 8. West Orange's Austin led all players with 31.