CHULA - And then there was one.
Thirteen turned out to be somewhat of a lucky number for Tiftarea Academy head basketball coach Mike Patrick. Thirteen losses into the 2019-20 season, he and the Panthers got their first win Friday, beating invading Valwood 54-46.
"0 and 13, we broke it," said Patrick after the game.
The Lady Panthers had earlier won over Valwood, 61-32, giving everyone plenty of playing time.
Neither Valwood nor Tiftarea have the most shining basketball records this season, but those numbers were irrelevant to the intensity and tenacity displayed by both teams.
The Valiants had ended the first half on a three-point play. They added to that the first six points of the third, turning a 27-26 deficit into a 32-27 lead.
Holt Dixon broke the string, then the Panthers got even closer at 34-32 when Dylan Harbort sank a three-pointer. Allen Harris drove in for a Valwood score at 3:21, but the squad soon went into a drought. That was all Tiftarea needed.
Harbort, now on fire after a tough start from the field, quickly sank two more from behind the arc. The latter featured an inadvertent assist from Dixon, who tried to reel in a high pass but tipped it to Harbort instead. The score was 40-36 in Tiftarea's favor going into the fourth period.
Brooks Walker pushed the lead to six points two minutes into the fourth. Harris scored the first Valwood points in six minutes, but fate was seemingly against the visitors. Two straight trips to the free throw line were cut short by lane violations.
The Valiants threatened to make it a race to the finish when Harrison Hamsley returned an offensive rebound, but Adam McKinney stepped into a three-pointer for a 48-41 lead with 2:45 left.
A Harbort layup and two free throws by Dixon meant it was 52-42 with 1:01 remaining. Hamsley hit two more field goals, but it was too much lead to make up for Valwood.
Harbort dribbled out the clock and Patrick briefly looked skyward in relief before shaking hands with Andy Stamschror, his former assistant who serves as Valwood's head coach.
Though an eight-point victory, Patrick said he didn't fully embrace the win until very late. "I didn't quit coaching until about 10 seconds," he said.
Walker scored six seconds into Friday's game for a quick Tiftarea lead, but the Valiants soon started rumbling. Hamsley had eight quick points and Valwood had an 11-6 advantage midway through the quarter.
But this was Tiftarea's night and shots began to fall. Harbort put them up 21-19 in the second, a lead that expanded when McKinney went coast-to-coast for a layup.
Harbort had 16 points for Tiftarea, 14 after halftime. Dixon scored 13 and Walker added nine. Hamsley's 15 were high for Valwood, which received 13 from Harris and 12 from DeMonte Taylor.
"I'm proud of them. You can go down the list," said Patrick. "Dylan's back, he played well tonight ... Logan (Crosson) ... Holt, he made some shots, Sellers (Veazey) came off the bench and rebounded, Brooks, Dow (Johnston). Everybody contributed. The best thing was the whole team, if they didn't play, was into the game. That's what we've talked about, being a team player."
Beyond the "lucky 13," some extra help might have come from another talisman. He found an old, beat-up dime. Filling in for head coach Amy Strenth in the earlier middle school game, he led them to victory, too.
LADY PANTHERS 61, VALWOOD 32
Strenth's short bench in her high school game was just a bit shorter Friday as Ali Strenth was out sick. Fortunately, her assistance was not necessary as Tiftarea rolled to victory.
Valwood, which entered with one win, kept pace for a quarter.
Alexis Gosier scored the first point of the night and when she completed an old-fashioned three-point play at 2:38 in the frame, the Lady Valiants were up 9-6.
However, any worries Tiftarea fans might have had soon evaporated.
By the end of the first, they were back in front as Allee Cooper put them ahead 10-9 at 1:35. The next quarter left no doubt. The Lady Panthers scored the first 20 points - a 24-point streak.
Carlie Strenth was a big reason for the swing. Valwood couldn't touch her under the basket and she had back-to-back-to-back-to-back baskets. Cooper then followed with six straight points. By the time Madison Shapiro made a free throw, the damage was done.
Tiftarea went into intermission up 32-12.
Bailey Jones made free throws to swell the advantage to 30 points, 44-14, but young Lady Panthers spent the majority of time on the floor over the last 16 minutes.
Grace Odom and Jolee Paulk accounted for 10 of the team's 15 fourth quarter points.
Strenth scored 16 for Tiftarea and Cooper had 14. Odom barely missed double-digits with eight points.
Gosier was nearly all of Valwood's offense, scoring 19 of 32 points. Aiyana Matchett was next best at 5 points.
Tiftarea goes to Deerfield-Windsor Tuesday before finishing the week with two home games. Brookwood comes to town Jan. 24 with Westfield coming in Jan. 25.