CUTHBERT -- While coach Jennifer Acree's Randolph-Clay Lady Red Devils led Hancock Central, 25-18 at halftime, she sat on the bench with clipboard in hand.
Using her magic marker, she wrote on it , "OUTHUSTLE," and "STOPPING THE BALL IN TRANSITION."
"That just means we were outhustled," said Acree, whose team is ranked No. 2 in the state.
That was not the case, however, in the second half as her team outscored Hancock Central 23-6 during the fourth quarter and won, 61-34, in the first round of the GHSA Class A state tournament Saturday night. The win, however, left Acree breathing a sigh of relief instead of contentment.
"When you get outhustled during the first half like we did, it makes the other team feel that they can play at your level and that can be dangerous in a state tournament," Acree said. "But we got some transition baskets in the third quarter and things started to go our way."
Now, her team will host Savannah Christian in the second round at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Although the Lady Red Devils' Destiny Mitchell only had five points at halftime and finished with 16 points, she made a greater presence on defense against the Lady Bulldogs, blocking seven shots.
Because of Mitchell's scoring potential, her defense is often overlooked, but she blocked three shots in the first quarter alone Saturday.
"She's a heck of a defensive player for us," Acree said. "Most people think of her as just a scorer, but she has more talent than that."
Early in the game, only Mitchell's defense was apparent because she had as many as four defenders on her inside the paint.
"It was really frustrating," Mitchell said. "I had to step it up on the defensive end so I could help the team whatever way I could."
Asha Alexander followed with 14 points, followed by Casey Sands, who added eight of her 10 points during that pivotal fourth quarter. And while Mitchell was contained on offense during the first half, teammate Shamara Stevens scored seven points by halftime, including two 3-pointers.
"We just know each other on the court," Alexander said. "We've been playing together a long time, so we know when to pick each other up on the court out there."
After Hancock Central took an early 5-4, lead, a basket by Alexander and one of Stevens' 3-pointers helped the Lady Red Devils build a 14-4 first-quarter advantage. The Lady Bulldogs' Denise Holsey and Shambria Freeman, who led Hancock Central with 10 points each, kept their team within striking distance, going into halftime down by only seven.
Hancock Central closed within, 25-21, with a 3-pointer by Freeman early in the third, but that was as close as it would get. A Mitchell putback made it 31-21, and the Randolph-Clay girls cruised from there.
Alexander feels this will help Randolph-Clay as the tournament progresses considering it was able to pull away when it had to.
"It will make us work harder,' she said.