Lady Devils to play Colquitt-Camden winner in Saturday finals

Level up: As has been the case all season, No. 32 Jamia Level’s arm goes up and the basketball goes the other way. Lowndes opted to pass rather than challenge Level’s shot-blocking ability.

TIFTON — Tift County’s Lady Devils will be in the Region 1-AAAAAAA basketball finals Saturday at Colquitt County. Who they will play is currently a mystery, but Tift and head coach Julie Conner, can be assured the Lady Devils will be there.

Colquitt County takes on Camden County tonight in the semifinals, which is scheduled to tip at 6 p.m. in Moultrie. The game was supposed to be Thursday, but the potential of foul weather pushed it back a night. Tift’s Blue Devils will play in the nightcap, taking on Colquitt at 7:30 p.m.

Conner has no predictions about tonight’s game. Colquitt swept both regular season meetings, but both were close. The Lady Pack won 55-46 at home, but only 56-55 on the road. “Camden matches up so well,” she said. Guards are a major part of why. Malerie Brooks, Kayla Ellis and Brianna White make a formidable trio and Conner also likes forward Nicole Jones.

Colquitt is led by senior Janiah Ellis and freshman Carliss Johnson. They were the only team to conquer Tift in region competition, pulling away for a 64-56 victory two weeks ago.

While Colquitt won at Tift, they did not win by enough at Tift; as the Lady Devils earlier had an 18-point margin of victory, that enabled them to finish as the No. 1 seed.

“We’re thrilled,” said Conner of being in this position.

And relieved.

Their seed is far from the last two region tournaments when they had to, as she put it, “Not have the bear on our back.” In region tournaments in 2018 and 2019, the Lady Devils had to win the play-in game to make state. “It’s a change,” Conner said.

She credits her players for their hard work during the season. Tift went 13-14 in 2018-19, which included a late five-game winning streak. They won their first round state game over Etowah, success that has bled over into this campaign. So big has the turnaround been that it’s even caused a difference in their style of play.

In recent seasons, the Lady Devils played a deliberate offense, counting on stops on the defensive end as much as points. This team has more of a run-and-gun format, running a fast break as often as possible. The result has seen them score 13 more points per game than last year (58-45) and give up three fewer (47-50).

Conner has reminded them they cannot get complacent on defense. She and her assistant do feel, however, they will be a tough team to stop from scoring, mainly because all of them can. “It’s going to be very hard to stop everybody,” she said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Through last Tuesday’s final home game, Nicky Jones was the Lady Devils leading scorer at 14 points per game. Shakiria Chaney was averaging 12.5. Cali Conner adds seven points per game, with Daejah Bailey, Tamyra Carter, Janie Ragsdale, San Graddic and Jamia Level all averaging from 3-5.

Regardless of result Saturday, the Lady Devils will host a first round game when the state tournament starts next week. They will play either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed from Region 3-AAAAAAA. That region is also wrapping up Saturday. Seeds entering tonight’s semifinals have McEachern first, North Cobb second, Marietta third and North Paulding fourth.

Conner hopes that game will be a doubleheader. Should the Blue Devils defeat Colquitt County tonight in their semifinal, they are also guaranteed a first round home game.

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