REGION XVII TOURNAMENT: Darton, SGT win Region XVII tourney openers; Albany Tech's season comes to end

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AMERICUS -- Darton College women's coach Laura Blackwell seemed far from content after her Lady Cavaliers' 67-58 victory against Atlanta Metro in the first round of the NJCAA Region XVII tournament Tuesday night.

Although the fourth-seeded Lady Cavaliers won, it was a 10-point halftime lead that almost got away that caught Blackwell's attention. What likely has her attention even more is that Darton faces top seed and defending tournament champion Middle Georgia at 6 p.m. today at South Georgia Tech.

The two teams met for last year's region tournament crown with the Lady Warriors winning, 93-83.

"It was a 'W,' that's all I can say about it," said Blackwell, whose team committed 25 turnovers. "When you play a lower seed, you never know what kind of mentality your players will have, and we have got to have a better mentality (today)."

Although First-Team All-Region selection Dominique Gilbert led the Lady Cavaliers with 14 points and 15 rebounds, she also got plenty of help. Shaylia Jester scored nine of her 11 points in the first half and also finished with 11 rebounds, Marah Wright had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Brittany Thornton finished with 12 points.

That, at least, gave Blackwell something positive to say about the win after her team shot 39 percent from the field and 52 percent from the foul line.

"Brittany, especially, was big for us; that was big for her confidence," Blackwell said. "We have needed other players on our team to contribute and she came through for us."

Nonetheless, Blackwell stressed a need for her team to show more intensity against Middle Georgia, which won both regular-season games by scores of 82-75 and 83-54.

"This is not where I want us to be mentally with us facing the top seed (today)," Blackwell said. "We played with no intensity or urgency at all. We should be peaking by now."

After the Lady Cavaliers fell behind, 24-23, with 4:44 left before halftime, a Jester basket and Wright 3-pointer helped Darton pull away before halftime. Then, the Lady Panthers played their way back into the game with two 3-pointers by Summer Hurst, trimming Darton's lead to 34-30. After Atlanta Metro got within 34-32, Gilbert scored to spark a 12-1 run, and the Lady Cavaliers never looked back.

Jester, who was voted as a region Player of the Week late in the season, felt the effort was there when it counted.

"We kept playing our game," she said.

Gilbert, after the win, feels her team will be motivated more to Blackwell's liking against Middle Georgia today.

"We want to do the things that we weren't able to get done (Tuesday)," Gilbert said.



The South Georgia Tech Lady Jets have the country's top-rated defense and it was on display against the Lady Tigers.

South Georgia Tech's defense set up easy baskets as coach Brandan Harrell's team led, 36-19, at halftime. ww

Deatric Smith, who played at Americus-Sumter, finished with 13 points, as did teammate Zsoka Ruttner.

"I told them before the game that we can't take anyone for granted -- just go out and play," said Harrell, whose team tied for the regular-season region tile with Middle Georgia but was relegated to second seed after a tie-breaking coin flip. "I told them after the game that I could not be any more proud of the team, from top to bottom."

Andrew was led by Joy Hoskins' 14 points.

"We had a disadvantage as far as depth," Andrew coach Mike Riffe said. "(South Georgia Tech) was simply better than us."