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February 10, 2014

Panthers play Southland on senior night

TIFTON — For several Tiftarea Academy athletes and cheerleaders, tonight will be their final time in uniform in Chula. The Panthers are celebrating senior night and they hope there will be much more to smile about against Southland Academy.

The Tiftarea girls team is the current leaders in Region 3-AAA and the boys are right in the thick of the race.

"We're playing really well," Mike Patrick said of his Lady Panthers.

That might be an understatement. The teams has won their last four games and by an average of 13 points per contest. A win tonight and a Deerfield-Windsor loss to Brookwood would clinch the regular season title for them. If that does not work, they have another shot to do so against Deerfield-Windsor Friday.

Patrick will be losing five seniors: Neeli Fortson, Caitlyn Albritton, Ali Rippy, MacKenzie McWhorter and Jarrett McWhorter.

"My whole starting lineup," he said. The team has really had a chance to bond, he said. "All five have been here (at Tiftarea) 14 years."

The first game against Southland was Feb. 3, part of a stretch where they played three games in four nights. The schedule was not originally as strenuous, but the the threat of snow two weeks ago made them reconsider a long road trip to Americus.

The rescheduled game resulted in a 51-36 win, but Patrick said it was much closer. "We made our free throws down the stretch." Southland is currently 2-3 in the region.

Like Patrick, boys coach Dan Henderson also has five seniors. They are Rob Flick, Christopher Gravitt, Josh Hancock, Taylor Folsom and Sam Tucker.

Their region mark stands at 2-2, tied with Deerfield-Windsor for second. Southland is 4-1 but can be tied. The Panthers lost by 10 in the first contest between them, but that was own hostile ground.

Patrick is convinced they can go far. "The region is wide open," he said, giving the example of Brookwood's upset win over Deerfield. "They still have a lot to play for."

Henderson's crew has a 13-10 overall record, their region wins coming over Brookwood.

The region tournament, which starts Feb. 18, will be held at Darton State.

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