AMERICUS -- Jayme Gilbert scored only three points in the fourth quarter.
But those three points were the difference in the game.
After nearly blowing a 15-point lead, Gilbert drained 3-of-4 free throws in the final 16.4 seconds as the Americus-Sumter girls held on for a 57-53 win against Monroe.
"This is our first region game in this region, and we stood the test," said Lady Panthers coach Evelyn Wright. "We can play with basically anybody if they give us a chance, and our girls played.
"I think it was an evenly-matched game. Their girls were very fast. I tell them all the time defense wins games, and we were on it. They (Monroe) are very tough, and I've got to give it to them there. They were very physical."
Americus-Sumter used a 23-4 run in the first half to build a 29-14 lead. It led 31-20 at the half when Monroe began chipping away at the lead.
The Lady Tornadoes pulled to within five (47-42) at the end of the third quarter and closed it to 54-53 on a layup by Destinee Collins.
From there, it seemed like no one wanted to score. Turnover after turnover -- more than 40 in the game combined -- ensued before Gilbert was finally fouled in the waning seconds.
Monroe had several chances in the final minute, but couldn't get a basket to fall.
"I thought we didn't play well tonight," said Lady Tornadoes coach Cheryl Cheeks. "We're still not running the off and still not communicating well on the floor. Until we do that, we're going to have to live with how we played tonight.
"We've got to be consistent. We're playing in spurts. We've got to be more consistent. That's all there is to it."
Sheniqua Young led Monroe (3-3) with 19 points while Ashley Johnson and Chelsea Cox had 14 and 10, respectively.
The Lady Tornadoes led 10-6 in the first quarter when the Lady Panthers made their run. Gilbert scored six in a row to give the Lady Panthers an 18-10 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first half.
"That was a big run," said Wright. "I thought they settled down and really played. Those girls came out playing. They're fast. I don't know if anyone knows, but they've won state every year in track. I know they've got speed."
After averaging 24.3 points in her first three games, Gilbert was held to 14 and five in the second half. But she got some help. Kayla Bowens and Adasjah Mercer each had 11 points, and Tanyetta Hill banked eight. Mercer grabbed nine boards, Hill had eight, and Diamond Denmark collected nine and blocked two shots.
"We just continued to play defense on (Gilbert), and I felt like if we controlled her, we should have some success," said Cheeks. "Unfortunately, someone else stepped up for them."
MONROE BOYS 53, AMERICUS-SUMTER 32:
Runtavious Gilbert scored a game-high 18 points, and Jabori McGhee added 14 to lead the Tornadoes (3-0) past the Panthers.
After the Panthers' Jarvis Brown drained a three to bring Americus-Sumter to within 17-15 early in the second quarter, the Tornadoes responded with a 17-2 run to end the half.
The Panthers (1-3) never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Lakista McCuller and Ralph Wilson led the Panthers with seven points apiece.