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March 1, 2014

Tift County one step closer to state AAAAAA championship

TIFTON — Two sets of Blue Devils ran on the court of Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, ready to do battle in the Class AAAAAA state basketball semifinals. They represented different ends of the state, one from Tift County, the other the defending state champions from Norcross.

Two hours later, only one set of Devils stood. The Tift County Blue Devils, the winners at 78-70, are headed for next week's state finals at Macon, where they will play Wheeler High, who made the finals with a 67-52 win over Pebblebrook in Saturday's other semifinal.

Playing at an arena that will soon be his home, Tadric Jackson decided to move in early, putting up a season high with 35 points. All night, he was the man Tift relied upon. If they needed a scorer, it was Tadric Jackson and when Ladarius Stewart fouled out in the 4th quarter, he was the one who was trusted most to bring the ball up the floor.

No matter what Norcross tried, they failed to find a way to stop him. He scored inside and outside, darting to hoop and occasionally settling behind the arc. Norcross contained him to 11 in the first half, then he went for 11 in the 3rd and 12 more in the 4th.

Astonishingly, Tift County never trailed in the contest and was tied only twice, once in the 1st at 9-9 and again in the 4th at 57. That did not mean that Norcross allowed them to relax. Tift had few moments of that, save for a brief spell in the 3rd when the lead was 15 points.

The afternoon was actually a tale of two Jacksons. While Tadric was the scoring machine for most of the game, one of the biggest shots of the night belonged to Tyrie Jackson. He hit a big 3-pointer that made the lead 70-60, then after another Norcross comeback cut the margin to three, he hit four free throws in the final minute to slam the door.

Tift went into the final period up 51-42, but that soon disappeared as Ricky Madison found his shot. The 6'6 junior had 11 points in the period and when Tift had problems with possession after Stewart exited, he scored six straight that cut it to 72-69.

Madison provided most of the firepower for the opposing Blue Devils, who also gave Tift fits with Lorenzo Carter.

It was just Tift's night. Tadric Jackson streaked up the middle for a layup just 10 seconds into the game. Carter's charity toss put Norcross on the board, but Stewart, Preston Horne and D.J. Bryant were there to make sure their team held the momentum. Tift's Devils were up 16-10 at the end of the frame. Carter had six of those,  but only scored nine more the rest of the way.

Limiting Norcross mostly to free throws, Tift increased the lead to 34-20 late in the 2nd before Norcross reeled off four straight points to make it 34-24 at halftime.

The 3rd would belong to Tadric Jackson. He had all the Devils' points until Tyrie Jackson scored five minutes into the quarter.

With Carter and Madison silent, it fell to A.J. Bush to keep Norcross close. His long distance shot at 2:29 cut the lead down to two, 44-42, but Tadric Jackson was fouled on a made basket 12 seconds later.

Tyrie Jackson, who only had three at intermission, would end up with 12 points. Stewart scored 11, Horne had 8 and a foul trouble-plagued Bryant scored 7.

Tift's record increases to 29-3, their only loss in-state coming to Valdosta during the last week of the regular season.

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20140726 John Reid.JPG

Tift County head football coach John Reid.

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