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Shock and awe: State No. 2 Lady Red Devils dropped

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CUTHBERT -- Jennifer Acree sat in a chair outside the locker room, head down. Silence suffocated the air around her.

She sat there, alone with her thoughts as her players left the locker room. One by one they walked by the coach, many in tears, all in shock.

That's what it looked like and felt like Wednesday night after Acree's No. 2 state-ranked Randolph-Clay girls basketball team fell, 59-54, to Savannah Christian in the second round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs.

A season and a dream had ended.

"This is my toughest loss,'' said Acree, who has been at Randolph-Clay three years. "We had five seniors who had the experience to get us to the Final Four, and we're not going to the Final Four.''

That's five seniors, including Destiny Mitchell, arguably the Class A best girls player in Georgia.

"She's everything they said she was,'' said Savannah Christian coach Toy Byrd of Mitchell.

But it was Byrd's plan that kept Mitchell in check, a 3-2 zone that collapsed on Mitchell all night.

The best way to stop Mitchell, who appears unstoppable most of the time, is simple: Don't allow her to get the ball.

Mitchell missed only three shots all night -- of course, she took only 12. And in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Mitchell shot just twice, a putback after grabbing a loose ball with 1:15 left that gave Randolph-Clay a 51-49 lead, and a 3 on the move with 8.2 seconds left.

But that was too late.

Mitchell made 5 of 5 shots in the second half, and finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. She also came up with seven steals.

Yet, it wasn't enough. Even on a night when Asha Alexander scored 17 points, Randolph-Clay (25-4), ranked No. 2 in the state, couldn't keep its season alive.

"Our defense let us down the whole game,'' said Acree, who couldn't believe her team let a five-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter.

Randolph-Clay had come back from a miserable start (down 20-10 after the first quarter) to take a 40-39 lead into the fourth, and Alexander hit a drive and then made a steal and a layup to lift the Lady Red Devils to a 44-39 lead.

But Savannah Christian (20-5), the No. 3 seed in Region 3, won because of two reasons: Adrienne DeFilippas and Kelly Reid, who combined to score 40 points.

"We knew they had two players, and couldn't stop them,'' Acree said.

DeFilippas hit two 3s (her fourth and fifth of the night) to give Savannah a 47-46 lead with 4:30 left, and after Mitchell gave the Lady Red Devils their final lead of the season (51-49), Reid answered with an inside move to knot things 51-51 with 1:01 left.

Randi Friess made a steal and a drive to put Savannah up 53-51 with 43 seconds left. Then Randolph-Clay's Casey Sands' five-footer hit the front of the rim and went the other way. Friess hit two free throws with 25 seconds left, then hit a drive on a fastbreak to make it 57-51. Mitchell's final basket of her career closed it to 57-54, but Friess made two more free throws with 5.8 seconds left to ice it.

"We didn't play in the first half,'' said Alexander, who scored 11 second-half points. "We didn't start playing until the second half, and then when we got the lead we could never keep it. We didn't play good enough defense.''

It was shocking. Randolph-Clay had won 12 in a row, hadn't lost since Jan. 9 and was primed for a run at it's third straight Final Four appearance and a possible state title.

Acree could only shake her head.

"We had a scouting report,'' she said. "We knew what they were going to do. We just didn't do what we were supposed to do.''