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February 25, 2014

Panthers play Pinewood, Westminster at state

TIFTON — The Tiftarea Academy Panthers and Lady Panthers join the list of local school participating in state tournaments this week, as the girls half of the GISA playoffs tip off today.

Mike Patrick's Tiftarea girls (13-14) face the Pinewood Academy Lady Patriots at Macon's Stratford Academy at 5:30 p.m. Dan Henderson's region champion Panthers (15-12) will have to wait until Thursday before their 7 p.m. game against the Westminster Schools of Augusta Wildcats, also to be played at Stratford.

Patrick summed up the Lady Patriots in three words: "mighty, mighty tough."

With a record of 20-6, they are the No. 2 team from 4-AAA. They would have probably been the winner, except for a foe named Bulloch Academy. That is the team response for three of the defeats. Both regular season contests were decided by two points before Bulloch won by 16 in the region championship.

"They are fundamentally sound and have an all-state point guard," said Patrick.

Tiftarea, who had been the 3-AAA's top team most of the season, saw their region tournament seed fall to second when they lost to Deerfield-Windsor to close the regular season. Then, in the first round of region at Darton State, they were defeated by Southland to send them to the consolation game. They beat Brookwood School there to be No. 3.

"We've put ourselves in a tough spot," Patrick said. "We have to take where we are."

He'll have plenty of support from his players. They are deep in leadership with five seniors on the roster, Ali Rippy, Neeli Fortson, Caitlyn Albritton, Jarrett McWhorter and MacKenzie McWhorter.

Both schools were bounced out of the tournament in the first round last year. Tiftarea lost to Dominion Christian while Pinewood fell to Westfield.

Henderson's squad pulled a mild upset when they won the region tournament over the weekend. Their reward of a top seed does not come with the best prize. Though Westminster (15-11) is the fourth team from their region, they were regular season champions, having fallen in their tourney.

"They're really solid on defense with two good guards," Henderson said. It might be a defensive battle as he said he expects a solid game from his own team in that department. If the Panthers have that, he believes their chances are good.

Westminster was a semifinalist in 2013, kept out of the championship game by Loganville Christian. Tiftarea dropped their opener last year to Holy Spirit Prep.

A win tonight by the Tiftarea girls would put them in the quarterfinals Friday against either Stratford Academy or Loganville Christian. That game would be at Tattnall Square at 8:30 p.m.

If the boys advance, they would play Saturday at Stratford at 4 p.m., either against Loganville Christian or Westfield. They have experience with Westfield, having faced them during the regular season. Semifinals for boys and girls will be at Mercer.

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20140726 John Gamble.JPG

John Gamble (right) is joined by John Reid at the Tiftarea YMCA Saturday.

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