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February 18, 2014

Assured of state, Panthers go to region tournament

TIFTON —  To some degree, Tiftarea Panthers basketball coaches Mike Patrick and Dan Henderson can relax. They are already assured of going to the GISA state tournament.

But the matter for their nerves is where the squads will be on the bracket and that is something to be decided this weekend when the region tournament is played at Darton State. The Lady Panthers, who were the regular season No. 2 seed, play Southland Academy at 4 p.m. Immediately after, the No. 3 boys play Deerfield-Windsor.

When the schedule was originally set, the region tournament was to have started Tuesday, but that was before Calvary Christian's departure from GISA athletics. Calvary leaving knocked the region down to four teams, making a play-in game unnecessary.

The Lady Panthers were almost the top team going to Darton. Until last Friday, they were undefeated in conference play but lost at Deerfield, which cost them the seed. It also broke a five-game winning streak and send their record to 12-13.

"It was tough playing them on senior night," said Patrick, who noted that he had one player out and that Ali Rippy injured an ankle during the game. He said they were able to hang with them for a half before his shortened bench took a toll.

Tiftarea's boys also had a difficult night with the Knights, who defeated them 63-53. Though Deerfield-Windsor has defeated them twice this year, Patrick knows it will be difficult to pull the feat three times.

"They have played with Deerfield," he said. "They just have to handle the pressure." Rob Flick has been the team's leading scorer. Trent Hobbs, Ethan Mims and Christopher Gravitt make up the bulk of the rest of the offense.

For Patrick, Neeli Fortson has led the scoring parade. "Neeli's had a great year," he said. Of course, "I'm proud of all of them." Caitlyn Albritton had a season high 17 recently against Sherwood Christian and Jarrett McWhorter went for 16 in their first game against Southland.

The state tournament begins Feb. 27, with Region 3's teams set to take on Region 4 with the first two rounds hosted at Tattnall Square Academy.

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