Pelham sophomore Briunna Freeman, a Herald Super 6er, drives to the basket against rival Mitchell County earlier this season. The Lady Hornets are the only unbeaten team in the Fab 5 and move to No. 2 this week.
ALBANY — Their season started late, but the Pelham Lady Hornets have jumped out to a fast start and now that Monroe’s Lady Tornadoes have lost, the Lady Hornets are the only undefeated girls team in Southwest Georgia.
That’s why they have moved from No. 4 to No. 2 in this week’s Herald’s Fab 5 poll, and Pelham will meet top-ranked Monroe on Thursday in the opening round of the Colquitt County Tournament.
“Maybe it will give my players some motivation,’’ said Pelham coach Antonio Tookes when she learned her team had jumped to No. 2 in the poll. “We’ve been playing well, but we’re still not where I want us to be. I want to be able to have all five starters scoring in double figurres.”
Monroe had stormed out to a 9-0 start but the Lady Tornadoes fell twice in the Carrollton Tournament last week, losing 59-43 to Chapel Hill and 56-39 to Carrollton. Monroe has a brutal schedule this week, playing Peham on Thursday and Washington County in the second round of tournament in a rematch of last year’s Elite 8 game that ended Monroe’s season.
Monroe won’t just have revenge on its side, Washington County’s Alisha Gray, who was Gatorade’s Player of the Year in Georgia last season, is out with a knee injury.
Monroe faces its biggest test of the season on Saturday when the Lady Tornadoes meet Miami Norland, a Florida powerhouse that is unbeaten this season and is usually one of the best teams in the highest classification in Florida.
Pelham plays Colquitt County on Friday and Albany High on Saturday in the tournament, and could move into the No. 1 spot in the poll with three wins this weekend.
Crisp County’s girls lost to Class AAAAAA Tift County last week and face Class AAAAAA Valdosta on Thursday in the McDonald’s Tournament in Tifton.
Randolph-Clay’s girls won twice at Carrollton and are making an argument for moving up in the poll after beating the same Carrollton team that beat Monroe, but Monroe owns a victory against the Lady Red Devils. R-C meets Monroe at home on Jan. 5 to settle the argument.
Monroe’s Tornadoes made a bold statement by not only winning the U Save It Tournament to stay unbeaten, but the Nadas beat No. 2 Westover for the second time in eight days with a convincing 52-38 victory.
The Tornadoes have a huge New Year’s Eve ahead of them in Atlanta, where they play Northeast, a South Florida powerhouse that is 7-1 and has already beaten its Fort Lauderdale rivals Dillard and Pompano Beach Ely, which are both state powers.
Monroe plays Luella on New Year’s Day to complete its two-games in the Hoops In Drive Tournament.
No one is playing better than Monroe, which has seen Super 6er Jabari McGhee emerge as a leader on and off the court.
But McGhee isn’t the only reason the Nadas are unbeaten. Everyone seems to contribute to the team’s success, and Tim White, who had five blocked shots against Westover on Saturday, has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. He has stepped in and become a force inside for Monroe, both offensively and defensively.
Westover, which beat Manchester and Statesboro to reach the U Save It final, had to deal with being exhausted as well as dealing with a Monroe team that plays the best defense in this part of Georgia.
The Patriots meet Monroe again in the Civic Center (for Round 3) on Jan. 12. Westover doesn’t play again until Jan. 8 at Worth County.
Randolph-Clay stays at No. 3 and Mitchell remains at No. 4. Both teams are in tournaments this week, and need to win to stay ahead of Bainbridge, which has won three in a row, including a big 64-58 win against Thomasville.
Bainbridge has had a brutal schedule and lost at Thomasville and fell to Tallahassee Godby when a shot rimmed out at the buzzer.
Bainbridge’s other loss was to Tift County, which has an all-star team that is arguably the best in Georgia.
“I think that’s the best team I have ever played,’’ said Bainbridge coach Ricky McCullough, who has a young team that is improving.
Bainbridge meets Seminole County on Jan. 4. The Indians (7-1) have been on the bubble to break into the Fab 5.
FAB 5 POLL
1.) Monroe 10-0
The Tornadoes remained unbeaten with three wins in the U Save It Tournamant, including a 52-38 victory in the title game against Westover. Next: vs. Oakland Park Northeast, 5 p.m., Dec. 31 in in Atlanta’s Holiday Hoops In Overdrive Tournament.
The Pats beat strong teams from Manchester and Statesboro in the U Save It before losing to Monroe, and stay at No. 2.
Next: at Worth County, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 8.
3.) Randolph-Clay 6-4
The Red Devils lost two games and won once against bigger schools in the Carrollton Tournament. Next: TBA, Friday in the McDonald’s Tournamentt at Tifton.
4.) Mitchell County 7-2
The Eagles lost to Class AAAAAA Valdosta last week, but stay in the No. 4 spot in the poll. Next: vs. TBA, Thursday in the Thomasville Hoopfest Tournament.
5.) Bainbridge .........................................................................................5-3
The Bearcats have won three in a row, including a big win against Thomasville, and had victories against Marianna, Fla. and Cottondale, Fla. Next: at Seminole County, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 4.
1.) Monroe 9-2
The Lady Tornadoes lost twice in Carrollton and open the Colquitt County Tournament on Thursday against No. 2 Pelham. Next: vs. Pelham, 5:30 p.m., Thursday in Moultrie.
2.) Pelham ..........................................................5-0
The Lady Hornets are the only unbeaten team in the poll, and after starting their season late they have jumped again from No. 4 to No. 2 this week. Next: vs. Monroe, 5:30 p.m., Thursday, in the Colquitt County Tournament.
3.) Crisp County............................................................6-2
The Lady Cougars slip from No. 2, but could move right back up if Pelham loses this week and they play well in Tifton: Next: vs. Valdosta, 6:30 p.m., Thursday, in the McDonald’s Tourney.
The Lady Red Devils won twice to advance to the finals at Carrollton, where they lost to state power Greater Atlanta Christian by three points. Next: vs. Eufaula (Ala.), 6 p.m., Jan. 6.
5.) Mitchell County.......................................................6-2
The Lady Eagles have rebounded from early losses and still look like the team to beat in the Region 1-A south. Next: At Valdosta, 6 p.m., Jan. 4.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of 3-pointers made by Dougherty sophomore Shunwaski Wheeler during the U Save It Pharmacy Boys Basketball Tournament on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Number of combined points scored by Monroe Super 6er Jabari McGhee in The No. 1 Tornadoes’ two wins vs. Westover.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
That’s the best defense we’ve played all year. We didn’t even know they (went that long without a shot). That’s how good the defense was going. We were just playing hard.’’
Monroe post player known as Wal-Mart, talking about how Monroe turned up its defense against Westover in the U Save It final and held the Patritots without a shot for more than four minutes and without a point for more than seven minutes in Monroe’s 52-38 win.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monroe girls vs. Pelham at Colquitt County Tournament in Moultrie.
Crisp County girls vs. Valdosta in the McDonald’s Tournament in Tifton
Deerfield-Windsor boys vs. Glenwood (Ala) in Georgia/Alabama Border Wars Tournament in Phenix City, Ala.
Monroe girls vs. Washington County at Colquitt County Tournament.
Monroe girls vs. Miami Norland in Colquitt County Tournament.