TIFTON — If Tift County basketball fans have been suffering withdrawals because of a lack of basketball games, they will be in luck shortly.
Tift County is not just back on the court Tuesday, but boys and girls will be together for the first time this season. Unfortunately for those averse to traveling, this week is filled with road games.
Tuesday action will be at Fitzgerald, with varsity girls starting at 6 p.m.
According to MaxPreps, the Lady ‘Canes were to start the season at Valdosta Saturday. The Hurricane had dropped an opening game to Jeff Davis in early November, 62-44.
Tift’s Lady Devils are 1-1. The Blue Devils are 0-2, with the latest game a 42-41 loss to Gadsden County, Fla., in Tallahassee. Tift missed a shot at the buzzer, according to head coach Xavier Holmes.
Fitzgerald’s girls reached the state quarterfinals a year ago and were ranked No. 7 in Class AA by Score Atlanta last week.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” said Lady Devils head coach Julie Conner.
Senior Trinity Jones was Fitzgerald’s leading scorer last season at 20 per game. Kyah Crook, also a senior, scored at a rate of nine points per contest.
Conner said she is thrilled with how her team has played over their first two games. “I think we have a good group,” she said. “The most talented team that I’ve had at Tift County.” The Lady Devils have had balanced scoring so far. Tamyra Carter is the only player to hit double-digits in either contest, but at least eight players have scored in each.
Despite being relatively close in geography, Tift and Fitzgerald have been infrequent opponents in recent years. The last time the two shared the court for a regular season game was January 2017. Over the last 10 years, the Lady Devils have played Fitzgerald five times, the Blue Devils have played them four.
Even less frequent are their trips to Fitzgerald. They haven’t seen the Colony City since Dec. 21, 2007. That was long ago for the Purple Hurricane, so long ago it’s practically ancient history with the work Lady ‘Canes coach Earl Brown has done with the program.
Not all games are recorded on MaxPreps for the 2007-08 Fitzgerald girls, but the four listed victories are likely close to accurate. Most of their history has been a struggle. The program was dropped at the conclusion of the 1956-57 season.
It returned to varsity level in 1979, but the Lady ‘Canes and Tift did not see each other again until the 1983-84 season. A single meeting in 1985 was the last time for more than a decade that the schools met on a basketball court.
Brown has built up Fitzgerald in recent seasons. A victory in the 2017 state tournament was just the second in school history. In 2018, Brown took them to the state semifinals in Class AA. In February, Douglass of Atlanta eliminated them in the quarterfinals en route to a state title.
“I’m happy for them,” said Conner, who remembers their years of struggle well.
The last time she had a chance to see Fitzgerald up close was a couple of years ago, she said, at a basketball camp at the University of Georgia.
Tift’s boys are getting their sea legs after heavy graduation from their semifinals run earlier this year. Against Gadsden, Holmes said Jyamier Beckhom led the squad with 13 points. Jatarion Warren added seven. Warren was most prolific scorer returning to the lineup, having averaged nearly 11.5 points per game.
Fitzgerald will be led by 6’7” senior Tyrese Powers, an explosive forward.
After Fitzgerald, Tift will go to Valdosta Friday night. The teams will play their first home game Dec. 10 against Coffee.