By DARRIN SMITH
Tribe Pride Arena was rocking Friday when the Lady Indians basketball team hit the floor in round one of the state tournament. Fans came out in droves to support and witness the Chattooga squad make history as the only girls basketball team to ever host a home playoff game. The ladies did not disappoint as they fought hard against an opponent that played just as hard and refused to go quietly. With only five players on the roster, the Lady Panthers from Therrell High School in Atlanta came to give their all. That’s exactly what they did. In fact, they lead by eight at the half, and were not caught by the Chattooga ladies until late in the third. A huge third quarter for the Lady Indians followed by a sprint to the finish in the fourth, was the difference in the game as the Tribe roared back for the come from behind win, 61-55.
The Lady Indians now have never been defeated at home in the playoffs.
With a loud and rowdy very large crowd behind them, the Lady Indians hit the court in what had to be a ton of nerves. The Lady Panthers wasted no time silencing and stunning the home team and crowd as they started out on an 8-3 run. Despite the lopsided start, Tia Dunaway brought the Chattooga crowd back to life with a long three to bring the first to an end with Therrell up 10-6. In the second, the Lady Indians regrouped and found a weakness in the Panther defense on the inside. Switching from attacking from the perimeter, the Lady Indians drew the defense outside then waited on someone to open up in the paint. It worked like a charm.
Every time the defense would roll out to defend the three-point shot, Navaeh Morgan or Allie Mitchell would find an opening underneath. Mitchell scored eight and Morgan four to keep the Indians within striking distance in the first half. Despite the Indians finding more success scoring, Therrell kept the pressure going at the other end of the court. In the second, they again led scoring with a 19-15 run but couldn’t pull away. At the half, Therrell led 29-21 and appeared to have plenty of momentum heading to the locker room.
Down eight to start the second half, the Lady Indians hit the court with a purpose. Therrell had dominated the first half but failed to put the game out of reach. The Lady Indians would have no more of that. Jacie Martin found her range to get the team and crowd fired up quickly. She hit two quick threes to get the Tribe right back in the fight. From there, the Indians momentum took flight. On defense, they made all the right adjustments to lock down the dangerous Panther offense. At the other end of the court, Faith Foster scored five with acrobatic drives to the basket while Navaeh Morgan and Elle Martin kept the pressure in the paint with a basket each. The perfect storm for the Indians caught and passed the Lady Panthers with a 17-6 third quarter run.
With the Indians holding a very small three-point lead 38-35 headed to the fourth, it was still anyone’s game. With each possession both teams became more and more aggressive. The strategy paid off for the Indians as fouls started escalating. With no one on the bench to come in as relief, the first Panther to foul out came with just under two minutes to play. Even though the Indians already held the lead by outscoring Therrell 23-20 down the stretch, the foul out sealed the win. The Lady Panthers didn’t make it easy however and continued to play fast offense and defense to keep the game close. At the 30 second mark, the second Panther fouled out. With a five on three advantage, the Indians simply ran out the clock for the win, 61-55.
“Give credit to Therrell, everything we threw at them offensively and defensively they were prepared for,” Coach Alvah Beasley said after the game. “Offensively, they spaced our defense out and overloaded us with shooters and penetration. Their guards were smart and well prepared for our presses and traps. Offensively, they were aggressive, which gave us fits establishing our rhythm. Our girls played with poise and maturity, because we definitely didn’t play well in the first half. We knew we had one defensive set they probably hadn’t seen and we adjusted to this defensive set at half. This adjustment, along with timely shooting allowed us to make a substantial run in the third quarter. This run and the energy from our fans helped us maintain the lead and earn the victory.”
Seven Indians scored in the win with Jacie Martin leading the scoring with 15 points. Allie Mitchell scored 14 and Faith Foster finished with 12 in the game.
The Lady Indians traveled to Rabun County on Wednesday and lost to the Lady Wildcats in the Sweet 16 round of the state tournament 82-40.