CHULA — The GISA Region 3-AAA play-in basketball games take place Tuesday and with them lie a pair of opportunities for Tiftarea Academy to make the state tournaments.
Both boys and girls play Valwood at the Valiants’ gymnasium. The winners move on to formal region play at Americus later in the week, which guarantees a spot in the upcoming Class AAA state tournament. Those who are not victorious see their seasons ended.
“I’m betting my stock in my seniors,” said Panthers head coach Mike Patrick. The Panthers have six of these, Logan Crosson, Banks Johnson, Dow Johnston, Adam McKinney, Gray Patterson and Jacob Spooner. “You find a way to make it to the Storm Dome (in Americus).”
Tiftarea enters with three wins on the season, but a split with Valwood, their opponent. The matchup is very even in the win column; the Valiants have three victories as well.
In girls action, the Lady Panthers seem to be a favorite over Valwood. The Lady Valiants have won two games, both of which came at Frederica Academy’s expense. Tiftarea won the regular season contests, 61-32 and 66-47.
It’s not often that a 60-point half does not lead to victory in basketball, but that happened to the Panthers Tuesday at Valwood. Sixty points went up on the scoreboard, but they lost by four, 80-76 to the Valiants. The first half is what knocked them out; Valwood was up 42-16 at intermission.
“Somehow, we got it close,” said Patrick. He had hoped to halve the lead, something Tiftarea did in the third quarter, outscoring their hosts 30-15. The lead was cut to single digits in the fourth quarter, but was too much with too little time to play. Dylan Harbort’s three-pointer at the buzzer provided the final margin.
“They didn’t quit,” he said.
Crosson scored 31 in the game, 26 after halftime. Many of those points came off turnovers, said Patrick, as he was on top of the defensive press. It was the second 30-point outing in three games for Crosson. On Jan. 30, he netted 33 in an overtime win over Southwest Georgia Academy.
Football had the fortune to make its second straight semifinals appearance, but this also meant several players had to immediately leap from that sport to basketball, which already was two games into the regular season. Crosson was one of those having to shake the rust off.
Injuries from the grid campaign carried over and only in January were some of the Panthers finally healthy. Patrick noted how much the better the team has played during this stretch. Before their first win over Valwood Jan. 17, Tiftarea averaged 39 points per game. Starting with that Valwood contest, the scoring average has been 58 points per night.
The Panthers have settled into a rotation these days, though it took some time to establish it. Of the 16 players currently on varsity, Patrick said 14 have started at least one game.
Last Tuesday’s Valwood game marked the end of the regular season for Tiftarea. They had been scheduled to face Crisp Academy Thursday, but predicted bad weather put an end to those plans. Unfortunately, it also cost the Panthers Senior Night activities.
Patrick said the seniors will be honored at a pep rally Tuesday. Besides the six male players, Bailey Jones, Ally Pate and Carlie Strenth are seniors for the Lady Panthers.