steve.carter@gaflnews.com



CHULA -- Finishing as the fourth seeds from Region 3-AA, the Tiftarea Academy Panthers and Lady Panthers will begin play tonight in the State Class AA basketball playoffs.

Both Tiftarea teams will face off against the champions of Region 2-AA.

The Lady Panthers will face the Pinewood Christian Lady Patriots at 8:30 p.m. tonight, while the Panthers will take on the Memorial Day Matadors at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow. Both games will be played at the Douglas Civic Center, located on Bryan Street in Douglas.

Having to face the champions of another league will provide each Tiftarea team with a challenge.

Coach Gina Mitchell's Lady Panthers will go against a Pinewood Christian team that is 26-1 on the year.

On the boys side, the Panthers will face a Memorial Day team that has won 14 games in a row and features a 7-foot-1, 240 pound exchange student from Finland.

Besides Tiftarea Academy's two squads, six other local teams will also be involved in first round state basketball action this weekend.

At Stockbridge High School, the Tift County Blue Devils will play the Morrow Mustangs in the state AAAAA basketball tournament at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The Turner County Lady Rebels will face off against the Cook High Lady Hornets at 7 p.m. Friday in the state Class AA playoffs at Brantley County High in Nahunta. In a game being played at the same site Friday, the Irwin County Indians will take on the Early County Bobcats at 8:30 p.m. in a boys AA matchup.

Both Worth County teams will be involved in the state Class AAA playoffs at Tattnall County High in Reidsville. The Lady Rams will face Liberty County at 7 p.m. Friday, while the Rams will take on Liberty County at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Lady Panthers will not go into their first round game completely unaware of Pinewood Christian.

Mitchell saw the Lady Patriots defeat Citizens Christian Academy 66-54 Saturday night to win its league crown.

"They have real quick guards and one real good inside player. CCA kept it close against them for most of the game, but they had to foul late and that is why Pinewood won as big as they did," said Mitchell.

The Tiftarea coach is confident of her team's chances after seeing Pinewood play Saturday.

"I feel like our defense is much stronger than CCA and I think that will be a big help to us," said Mitchell. "We also defeated CCA twice this season, while Pinewood's one loss was to them."

The Lady Panthers (18-7 on the year) will enter the game without the services of point guard Whitney Headrick. The junior injured her knee in the consolation game of last week's Region 3-AA tournament and is out for the remainder of the year.

"That is one thing that concerns me, because losing Whitney will hurt our defense," said Mitchell. "But, our girls are determined to pick it up in Whitney's place. I am going to be counting on Andrea (Kelley), Caroline (Coarsey), Glenna Ruth (Parkman) and Shea (Weaver) to help pick us up with Whitney out of there."

The Lady Panthers spent most of Tuesday's workout practicing their defensive sets.

"We are going to need to put pressure on their guards and we are hoping their big girl can't beat us down low," said Mitchell.

While the Lady Panthers have a positive attitude going into tonight's contest, the Panthers are looking forward to their encounter with Memorial Day, "as a fun challenge for us, because we have nothing to lose," Stanfill said.

The Matadors of Memorial Day were 8-4 during the middle of the season. That is when Artur Surov came into their lives.

Memorial Day has won 14 straight games since Surov, a 7-foot-1 exchange student from Helsinki, Finland, joined the team back in January.

With his tallest player being 6-foot-3 Ric Ellis, Stanfill is taking having to face Surov in stride.

"We have had no luck lately against 6-foot players, so it can't be much different against a 7-footer," Stanfill said with a laugh.

Surov is not the only foreign presence on the Matadors squad. Australian-born Kevin Brophy, a 6-foot-2 guard, is averaging nearly 17 points





per game for the Matadors.

"Having a 7-foot-1 player in high school is great, but that Australian kid is a good player, as well," said Stanfill. "Besides those two, they also have a 6-foot-5 forward (Jordan Moon) that is supposed to be a real good player."

With the challenge that Memorial Day will give his team, Stanfill has given the Panthers several different looks.

"We have got to do something different against a team like this. We won't be able to stop a 7-foot-1 player, but we will have to try to slow him and the rest of that team down," said Stanfill.

"I know we will play hard for those 32 minutes we are on the court, but we can't play a team like this straight up. That will be the dumbest thing we could do."

The Panthers (14-9 this season) have also worked on free throw shooting during this week's practices.

"If we had hit our free throws, we would not be worrying about Memorial Day. We missed 38 free throws in three tournament games last week. One of those games, we missed 11 and got beat by three and in another, we missed 13 in regulation and got beat by two in overtime," said Stanfill.

"The last week of the season, we lost to Brookwood twice by a combined eight points. We missed 25 free throws in those two games. I figured if we had made 60 percent of our free throws this year, we would have won five of the nine games we have lost."

If the Lady Panthers defeat Pinewood, Mitchell's team would face the winner of the Brentwood-LaGrange game at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Douglas.

A win by the Panthers over Memorial Day would put the Tiftarea boys squad against the Curtis Baptist-Oak Mountain victor at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Douglas.

Two wins by either Tiftarea team would earn a trip to the State Final Four.

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