Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MILLEDGEVILLE --- Better get a program to watch the Terrell Academy girls when they play David Emanuel in the GISA Class A state semifinals at 2:30 today at Georgia College and State University.

You might not recognize them.

Oh, it's the same kids who have been around all year. They're just not the same players. Call it an identity crisis or use the old fashioned cliche of finding yourself, but whatever it was, it worked.

Here are the Lady Eagles, right back in the Final Four ready to defend their state title. Sure, they've lost twice to David Emanuel but that's just the point.

This isn't the same team.

"We're 20 times better than we were the last time we played them,'' said Alex Barfield, a sophomore who started for the state champs a year ago.

Give Barfield credit for the nickname "Triple Threat.'' That's what she calls herself and junior teammates Marlee Locke and Millie Foster. All three started for the state champs and came back this year.

That's why everyone thought Terrell Academy would just fly out of the gate.

"They always expect us to win anyway," Locke said. "It's because we're Terrell Academy.''

It's his third trip to the title game as a starter -- the third in a row for these DWS seniors, who have shed more tears in Milledgeville than anyone wants to remember.

But not now. Now its all about joy and redemption, about taking that final step and -- like the T-shirts at DWS say, "Let's get it done.''

"We're so determined,'' Matthews said. "We're just so hungry to get the state title.''

They can't wait for the final at 8:30 Saturday night against the winner of Thursday's other semifinal, Tattanall Square, which Mount Vernon in the final seconds.

Not these kids.

"It's going to seem like years until then,'' junior Banks Kinslow said. "I want to play right now if my body would let me.''

It wouldn't.

You want a snapshot of how much these Deerfield kids want to win it all, just take a look at Kinslow late in the third quarter when he was knocked off his feet and into the seats -- just after he had lifted a long 3-pointer.

"I didn't even see it go in,'' Kinslow said. "I said, 'Did I make it?' "

He did make it -- that one and four more 3s to finish with 19 points. Matthews also busted three 3's as the pair of guards torched Walton all night.

"When those two are hot, no one can stay with us,'' said Brown, who scored nine points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

Walton couldn't stay with the Knights (27-1), who held the Bulldogs to just 4 of 20 shooting in the second quarter and led 33-28 at halftime. Kinslow and Matthews opened the second half by each hitting a 3 and the Knights were off and running with Kinslow (9 points on three 3s in the third) leading the way.

DWS built the lead to 13 (52-39) and was still up by 10 at the end of three. And even after a valiant Walton run, the Knights still looked in control with a 59-50 lead with 1:33 left. That's when the Bulldogs made their move -- a 9-1 run that closed the score to 60-59 with back-to-back 3s with 16 seconds left.

"I had that sick feeling in my stomach every coach gets when a team cuts it from 10 to one in the final seconds,'' Gruhl.

Gruhl then smiled, likely thinking of the finish.

That's when Matthews put the game away with those get-me-back-to-the-title-game free throws.

"We survived,'' Gruhl said. "We couldn't slow them down, and they hit some big shots, but then we put it away at the end."

That's when Matthews, the ageless senior, picked up the Knights and dropped them back in the state title game.

"We're right back where we were last year,'' said Alexander, a two-year starter. "We've got to finish it this year.''

Matthews, meanwhile, got the final word Thursday night.

"We're not done yet,'' he said. "The one we want is Saturday.''