Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Dougherty came just-this-close.

And that's why this one hurts so much, this 56-54 loss to Butler in the opening round of the GHSA Class AAA state playoffs that didn't end until Dougherty had made one last charge before watching its memorable season come to an end.

No girls team in Southwest Georgia had come further any faster than Dougherty's Lady Trojans, who sailed into the state playoffs on the heels of winning a dramatic Region 1-AAA title game a week ago, beating Herald No. 1 Westover at Westover.

That momentum carried over to the Dougherty gym, where the Lady Trojans hosted their first playoff game in years Friday night.

But a packed house watched Kiandra Guilford's final 3-point shot of the season skip off the rim with 35 seconds left and watched Dougherty's season skip away with it.

"I thought we were in a special situation because we were playing on our home court," Lady Trojans coach Charlene Jackson said. "We never gave up. We just missed some opportunities."

Dougherty, which stormed back into the limelight this season, made one last comeback Friday. The Lady Trojans were down, 47-40, with 3:30 left in the game, but ripped off a 9-4 run and closed to 51-49 when Jasmine Lavant hit a drive and a free throw to complete an and-one play with 50 seconds remaining in the game.

But that was as close as Dougherty could get down the stretch.

Butler's Crystal Berkensteir made one of two free throws to put Butler up 52-49 with 46 seconds left, and Guilford missed a contested 3-pointer that sailed out of bounds with 35 seconds on the clock, which was essentially the Lady Trojans' last blow as Butler went on to ice the game from the free-throw line.

"The kids played hard and never quit," Jackson said. "We had players make big shots for us all season. We just missed some of those shots (Friday).''

Dougherty did, in fact, have a number of opportunities in the game but several miscues around the basket, poor free-throw shooting, and turnovers in crunch time made it difficult for the Lady Trojans to gain momentum in this game.

"(The loss) was unexpected," said Jayla Hooper, who led the Lady Trojans with 13 points. "Missed layups, missed free throws, turnovers -- all of it."

But despite the Lady Trojans' short comings, they did not stop playing until the clock hit zero.

After a slow start by both teams, Butler (15-14) tried to pull away in the second quarter, taking a 12-7 lead with 6:09 left in the half. But Hooper was not having any of that as she muscled in back-to-back baskets that pulled the Lady Trojans within a point (12-11) with 4:45 left in the half.

Dougherty kept it close until Shawntal Byrd connected on a transition jumper with three seconds left before halftime that gave Dougherty its first lead, 22-21, since scoring the game's first points.

In the third quarter, Butler recaptured the lead, 24-22, on the first of three third-quarter 3-pointers from Berkensteir, who led Butler with 14 points. Dougherty came back and knotted things at 39-39 with 10 seconds left in the third, but a heads-up play and a big assist by Butler's Ashley Watts, who found Elizabert Grissom open down low, helped Butler take a 41-39 lead into the fourth quarter.

Dougherty never led again as Butler opened the fourth with a 6-1 run to take the 47-40 lead, before Dougherty made its final comeback. Lavant finished with 12 points and Guilford scored 10.

"We fell short to a good team," Jackson said.

With the heartbreaking loss, the Lady Trojans finish their season with an 18-7 record, which was a significant improvement over last year's 10-12 mark.

"It was an awesome experience," Hooper said of Dougherty's 2010-11 season. "The seniors that we have are going to be missed so much. This team is like sisters and can't be replaced."