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Gilbert's 20 paces Lady Panthers, who roll Lady Trojans, set up duel Friday with Westover for 1-AAA title

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Jayme Gilbert didn't hit shot from the floor until there was 5:05 left in the game. But once she got started there was no stopping her -- or Americus-Sumter, which set up a showdown date with Westover on Friday for first place in Region 1-AAA by beating Dougherty, 59-43, on Tuesday at the Albany Civic Center.

Americus-Sumter (18-4 overall, 9-2 in 1-AAA) had to win to have a chance at the top seed in the region, and it looked for a while that Dougherty might pull off the upset. The Lady Trojans (14-, 6-5) went into the fourth quarter leading, 33-29, and were sparked in the fourth by Shawntel Byrd, who made back-to-back steals to lead a pair of fast breaks that lifted Dougherty to 38-31 lead.

Then came Gilbert, the Herald Super 6er who simply took over in the second half.

She couldn't find the basket all day and had a total of just four points, thanks to hitting 4 of 8 free throws in the first half. But with 5:05 left, Gilbert busted a 3 and the dam busted for Americus-Sumter, which ran off a 28-5 run to end the game.

"Once she made that 3 it fired everyone up,'' Americus-Sumter coach Evelyn Wright said. "We were playing kind of sluggish in the first half. I'm glad they finally got it together.''

Wright said her team's problem was the size of the Civic Center -- they were playing there for the first time this year -- and the NBA 3-point line.

"Jayme was shooting from the (NBA) line in the first half,'' she said. "Once she got her shot, she nailed it.''

Gilbert said she just needed to relax and compose herself after the early struggles.

"They took me out of my game,'' Gilbert said. "(Byrd) was on me and I just couldn't get the ball. I was starting to get mad, but then I sat down and gathered myself (in the fourth quarter). I knew what had to be done, and I did it. We did it."

Gilbert ignited the rally with a personal 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, and then hit Diamond Denmark on a break to give the Lady Panthers their first lead of the second half.

Gilbert poured in 16 fourth-quarter points to finish with 20.

Once I made (the first one) I said: 'Oh, I got it now,' '' Gilbert said. "I said, 'This is a wrap. They're not coming back this time.' "

Adasjah Mercer scored 10 and Kayla Barnes and Ashley Howard scored nine each for the Lady Panthers, who are ranked No. 2 in The Herald, right behind Westover.

"Everything just went downhill,'' Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson said. "I'm still at a loss for words to what happened. We did so many things well for most of the game, and then we kind of slipped. You can't slip against a player like Jayme Gilbert and a team like Americus.''

Dougherty could have forced an issue for second place in 1-AAA with a win. The Lady Trojans played well despite not having Jayla Hooper, who was out with an injury. Terrianna Martin had a huge game, scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, and Byrd had six steals and six assists. Jasmine Lavant had 10 points, nine rebounds and a blocked shot.

Still, this one got away from Dougherty, which killed itself at the free throw line, where the Lady Trojans made just 13 of 39. Americus-Sumter went 22 of 34 from the line.

Dougherty, ranked No. 4 by The Herald, now must beat Worth on Friday to nail down the No. 3 seed in next week's Region 1-AAA tournament, and the top two seeds will be decided Friday night at Westover when Herald No. 1 and No. 2 meet. Dougherty will be a factor next week with or without Hooper.

"At this point in the season, you need all your players playing,'' Jackson said.