Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- Take a look in the mirror Mitchell County. Your 55-51 loss to Brooks Tuesday night?

That's your season looking back at you.

If there was ever a game that was a reflection of where you've been and where you're at today, it was Mitchell's girls basketball team's loss to Brooks.

Just like the Lady Eagles' season, there was a horrible start, an inspiring comeback that made Mitchell look all but unbeatable -- and then the final collapse.

"It was a heartbreaker,'' said Mitchell County coach Rosemary Sanders, a first-year coach whose team got off to a 1-4 start, then ripped off a nine-game winning streak that included a win against Thomasville, the top-team the Region 1-AA race.

But the streak ended Tuesday, right where it began.

Mitchell County (10-5, and 6-3 in Region 1-AA) hadn't lost since Brooks beat the Lady Eagles 66-62 on Dec. 5

"Good, we ended their streak,'' said Brooks coach Lamarr Thomas, who had reason to be smiling. Tuesday's game broke a deadlock for second place in the region. Brooks and Mitchell were both 6-2 coming in, and now Brooks is in second place by itself.

There were no smiles at Mitchell County, where there was some obvious tension after the loss. In fact, Sanders was in the middle of an interview with The Herald when a student rushed into her office and beckoned the coach to hurry and come right away to the locker room.

Sanders' assistant then said the coach would not be returning, and that none of the players would be available for comment.

It was a tough loss, made all the more difficult to swallow because Mitchell had every chance to win the game, but simply couldn't make simple free throws.

"The bottom line to that game is free throws,'' Sanders said. "We have to make our free throws.''

Not even a monster performance by Tiona Burley, who scored 29 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked three shots. Burley, who has already committed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, even made five of her seven free throws. The rest of the Lady Eagles, however, went 5 for 18 from the free throw line as the team went 10 for 25 for the night. Brooks made 10 of 14 free throws, including 9 of 11 in the fourth quarter.

Mitchell missed its first nine shots from the field, turned the ball over 21 times in the first half, and trailed by as much as 15 (32-17) before putting together that inspiring streak on the court.

"The first two quarters were terrible,'' Sanders said. "Defense got us back in the game.''

Down 34-21 at halftime, Mitchell started going more and more to Burley, who scored 18 second half points. The Lady Eagles also took over the game on the defensive end of the court, holding Brooks scoreless for more than six minutes in the third quarter. Mitchell County finally took the lead -- 43-41 -- on D'Erika Quimbley's five-footer with 5:02 left in the game.

It appeared Mitchell had all the momentum, but Brooks knotted the score 43-43 on Jasmine Mapp's put-back, and then took over after a technical foul opened the door. Sanders was screaming at the officials for a time out, but never got it, and when Quimbley looked up assuming a time out had been called, Brooks stripped the ball. Quimbley shouted, "but it was time out,'' and was slapped with the tech with 4:22 left.

Khadija Jones hit both free throws and Brooks -- thanks to some crucial free throws by Clarion Macon, who led the Lady Trojans with 22 points -- took over the game and second place in the region.

"The tech was the turning point in the game,'' Sanders said. "But we didn't lose because of the tech. We lost because of free throws.''