MOULTRIE - The Tift County Lady Devils won the Region 1-AAAAAAA title Saturday in grand fashion, defeating Camden County 51-37.
To earn its first region title since 2016, Tift survived a wild patch in the third and fourth quarters where it seemed like every possession was ended by a turnover. During that stretch, Camden cut the lead from 12 points, 34-22, all the way down to three, 38-35.
Fortunately, things went back their way, starting with a travel violation by the Lady Wildcats. Shakiria Chaney made a free throw for a four-point advantage. That slight bit of breathing room ended up opening the floodgates.
Nicky Jones drove to the hoop for two points, then Chaney was fouled on a made basket. The three-point lead was now a thing of the past. Tift was up 44-35 and time was ticking away from Camden.
"The whole way we played in the fourth," said head coach Julie Conner, made up for any of the nervous moments of minutes before. "We made smart decisions," she said.
The night before, Camden started the fourth quarter with a stall, which seemed to relax Colquitt County's defense and helped allow for the upset. Tift didn't let Camden breathe Saturday.
Besides the height advantage that played in their favor, the guards played aggressively. In crunch time, it was Tift's defense that pushed the pace, forcing a five-second turnover on an inbounds. That was the end of the Lady 'Cats' chances.
Tift led 10-6 after a quarter, 27-21 at halftime. The biggest boom from that came from an unlikely source. With time ticking down and the Lady Devils up three points, back-up point guard Skye McCrae fired up a shot. While the ball was in the air, the horn sounded.
"Like in the movies," said Conner. The shot swished the net. "That gave us a jolt," she said.
Conner credited assistant Chris Powell with some of the defensive schemes that amplified the height difference even more.
Tift had two six-foot players, Jamia Level and Janie Ragsdale. Usually, only one is on the floor at the time, but Powell pointed out how well Ragsdale, a freshman, has played down the stretch. She went into the game with Level. Most of Camden's scoring was by guards.
Chaney finished as leading scorer with 17 points. Jones joined her in double digits with 14 and Level added six.
The Lady Devils, now 20-6, will host Marietta (14-13) in the first round of state. Marietta, also the Lady Devils, dropped their Saturday consolation game to North Paulding, 56-54.