steve.carter@gaflnews.com



CHULA -- No pressure!

That could be the rallying cry for the Tiftarea Academy Panther and Lady Panther basketball teams this week at the Region 3-AAA tournament being held at Sherwood Christian Academy in Albany.

Head coach Donald Barnes' Panthers will play tonight at 8 p.m. as the No. 5 seed against the Brookwood Academy Warriors. The Lady Panthers of head coach Gina Mitchell enter the tournament as a No. 3 seed, but will be heavy underdogs Thursday at 4 p.m. against the Deerfield-Windsor Academy Lady Knights.

Even though his team has the last seed in the five-team boys tournament, the Panther head coach said his team his capable of surprising.

"We are not playing well right now, but we are capable of doing a lot better," Barnes said.

"Basketball is a game of chemistry. If we can get that, we will have a chance to do well in this tournament. We have proven we can play with anyone, because no one has played Deerfield tougher than we have this season and they are the No. 1 ranked team in the state. Right now everyone is 0-0 and we have to look at this tournament as a fresh start."

The Panthers (8-17, 1-7) closed out the regular season last Thursday with a 65-51 loss to the same Brookwood team. However, Tiftarea did defeat the Warriors earlier this season.

"We proved we can beat them. We have just got come out and play hard against them. They had one kid go for 34 points the other night, we can't allow that to happen again," Barnes said.

The head coach said he will be relying on his seniors tonight.

"We will need Johnny Camp, Jamey Johnson, Jacob Echols, Jason Teel and Derek Grist to all provide us with leadership. I know they will not want to go down without a fight, so we will need some fire from them," Barnes said.

With a win over Brookwood, Tiftarea would advance to the tournament semifinals Thursday at 8:30 p.m. against Deerfield.

As the No. 3 seed the Lady Panthers will be in the semifinals Thursday against Deerfield. Tiftarea has lost twice to the Lady Knights this year, but Mitchell likes her team's chances for an upset.

"We are going to have to play well, but if we play our game and play smart I like our chances," said Mitchell. "Our two biggest concerns are keeping turnovers to a minimum and rebounding the ball."

Guard play will also play a factor in the game, according to the Tiftarea head coach.

"We have been practicing a lot against a half-court trap this week, because that is their favorite defense. A player from the boys' team, Whit Coarsey, has come out and helped us with that. They have a couple of big girls and that gives a chance to know how it feels against someone that tall," Mitchell said.

"We will need to get through that pressure and also cause some pressure of our own against their guards. We will need to make them work at getting the ball to those big girls."

Darby Pilkinton and Marianne Brown will be counted to provide defense for the Lady Panthers, while "we hope Lindsey Shiver is hitting. If she is that will help our offense a lot," Mitchell said.

With win over Deerfield Thursday, the Lady Panthers will play in the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m.



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