ALBANY -- If Darton's Thursday night victory against Albany State is a foreshadowing of things to come, the Lady Cavaliers will have a lot to smile about this season.
Darton welcomed its new head coach Lea Henry with a 63-56 comeback win at home as the local JUCO took down the local Division II in stunning fashion.
Even if it was a preseason scrimmage for both teams.
"Exhibition games are important so you can work out kinks," Henry said. "They're important to win, but at the same time they don't go on your record."
Michelle Mitchell was Darton's high scorer with 18 points, while Lauren Johnson was the only other player to score in double figures for the Lady Cavaliers with 16 points.
"I thought (the game) went great," Johnson said. "It really helped us solidify what we've been working on in practice. When things started to work it felt great as a team; trusting our offense and trusting each other."
The Lady Rams, meanwhile, had a game-high 23 points from Bainbridge native April Thomas and were left wondering how they let a winnable game slip away.
"I think we played pretty hard (Thursday) night, but Darton is just a little bit ahead of us," Thomas said. "Our season is still three weeks away, but if we work hard I think we can get back on track."
ASU coach Robert Skinner said his team had every oppurtinity to win, and simply didn't take advantage.
"We played well in spots, but knowing coach Henry and how she motivates her team, we knew they weren't going to quit and we didn't handle the pressure they put on us late very well," said Skinner, who added he felt a scrimmage loss to two-year school Andrew College in Cuthbert was likely still "lingering" in his teams' minds when it took the floor Thursday. "(Both losses), to me, were upsets. Any time a two-year school beats a four-year school, it's a bit of an upset. But Darton has been on the floor (preparing) longer than us (since they open next week and we don't open until Nov. 22), and (Thursday night) they looked better prepared."
Despite failing to run their offense early on, the Lady Rams overcame Darton's zone defense and maintained a first-half lead, thanks in large part to its 3-point shooting.
After Darton deadlocked the game at 19-19, Albany State ended the first half on a 9-0 run.
The second half however belonged to Darton. Amid a 13-0 run to begin the half, the Lady Cavaliers grabbed the lead for the first time four minutes into the second half. Scoring for Albany State went from tough to painstaking as they struggled against The Lady Cavs' full court press.
"We had not been running that press the first half very much because we weren't scoring a whole lot or getting to the free throw line," Henry explained. "Then when you come out in the second half and throw it on a team, it either goes one way or the other. Fortunately for us I thought it really disrupted what they were trying to do."
But a two-basket lead for the Lady Cavaliers would soon dissipate as the Lady Rams battled back. They recaptured the lead until a little over five and a half minutes when Johnson and Mitchell took matters into their hands.
"We relaxed a lot and I was able to find open areas and get teammates good shots and everyone executed and knocked down their shots," Johnson said. "The more our defense picked up the more we started to score in transition."
The game remained close until Christina Brown, who finished with seven points, hit the Lady Cavs' only 3-pointer of the game with just under two minutes to play. Jomanda Smalls sealed it with a crucial steal in the closing seconds, giving Henry a successful debut.
"I am really excited about being here," said Henry, who spent the last 16 years coaching at Georgia State University. "I think our players are working extremely hard and adapting well to a new system and new coaching staff. I think after (Thursday) they will appreciate the expectations that are being placed on them."