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February 24, 2014

Panthers take Region 3-AAA championship

CHULA — The Tiftarea Academy Panthers were the No. 3 team in Region 3-AAA going in to last weekend's region tournament at Darton College, their only conference wins against Brookwood.

When time expired Saturday night, they Panthers had not just participated in the region final against the Southland Academy Raiders, they raised the first place trophy after a 42-37 final.

"I'm really proud of them," said head coach Dan Henderson, whose squad is now 15-12. Southland fell to 20-5, according to GISA Stats.

Their previous games against Southland had gone 52-42 and 43-28. The latter was at home.

Tiftarea was up 19-18 at halftime against the Raiders. It was an uneasy lead, especially as Henderson knew their star, Michael Volley, had been quiet all night. Plus, he said, "Volley takes over the game in the 4th."

That he did, but the Panthers were up to the challenge.

Christopher Gravitt had 17 points, combined with 15 rebounds. Rob Flick added 8 and Sam Tucker 7.

This was their first basketball championship since moving up to Class AAA. Their next game will be Thursday, when they play Westminster Schools of Augusta at 7 p.m. The original schedule had the team playing at Tattnall Square, but that has been changed.

The night before beating Southland, the Panthers defeated Deerfield-Windsor, who were considered the hosts of the tournament.

In their last game against the Knights, Henderson said the team committed 28 turnovers, a game they lost by 10 points. He said he told them if they could keep those down and make their free throws, they could win the game.

Deerfield-Windsor led at halftime by three and were up two at the end of the 3rd, but Tiftarea's defense pulled them through, 43-40.

"Offensively, we made some mistakes," he said "but we played well defensively." One of the biggest factors, he said, was Gravitt.

Gravitt was held scoreless but had 18 rebounds in the game. Tucker led with 12 points, with Flick scoring 11 and Ethan Mims 8.

It was the first time Henderson's Panthers had ever beaten Deerfield-Windsor.

"We were so excited, I was afraid we wouldn't have anything left," he said.

As it turns out, they did.

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