Darton’s JoJo Smalls was breaking through the Central Georgia Tech defense all afternoon Saturday in their big Region XVII matchup. Smalls finished with 15 points as Darton rolled, 77-49. (David Mann/Darton College)
ALBANY — Eight wins in a row.
But if you ask freshman Michelle Mitchell, the Lady Cavs are just getting started.
“We’re on our way,” said Mitchell, who led Darton with 18 points in the team’s 77-49 home victory Saturday against Central Georgia Tech. “We’re on our way to the top, trying to win our conference and make it to nationals.”
Since opening up the season with a 7-5 record, the Lady Cavs have surged in the second half of the season, winning nine of 10 games in 2012.
They stormed past Central Georgia Tech — a team the Lady Cavs beat by just one point earlier in the season — on Saturday and are now gearing up for a rematch with South Georgia Tech on Monday in Americus.
The game will pit Region XVII leading South Georgia Tech (15-0) against Darton, which is tied for second place in the region with Georgia Perimeter at 11-3. The Lady Jets edged Darton in overtime in a matchup between the two teams in early December in Albany, but much has changed in the last two months, and Saturday’s 28-point victory was an indicator of that.
“We are hitting where we want to hit at the right time,” Darton coach Lea Henry said. “We are jelling, we are peaking, we are playing well. We have a lot of people playing well, which really helps our team.”
It wasn’t just Mitchell and sharp-shooter Christina Brown leading the Lady Cavs on Saturday. Darton had five players in double figures, including JoJo Smalls and Crystal Reed, who came off the bench to score 15 and 10 points, respectively.
“We are playing how we are capable of playing,” said Smalls, who scored a season-high 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Thursday’s win against Andrew College. “Everyone is stepping up, and we can depend on our bench. If something happens to our first string, we have a second string that can come in and take care of business.”
Reed, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Peach County High School, has been a big part of the uprising of the Lady Cavs’ second string, which saw nearly as much time on the floor Saturday as the starters. Reed blocked five shots and made things difficult for a Central Georgia Tech team that didn’t have a player taller than 6-foot.
“The addition of the big girl inside has really been huge,” Central Georgia Tech coach Fala Bullock said, referring to Reed, who sat out the first half of the season until she was eligible to play. “She has really created a chaos inside because of her length and her size. I think from the last game against us to this game, she looked very confident.”
Confidence isn’t lacking from any of the Lady Cavs.
“We’re on our way to Kansas,” said Smalls, referring to the NJCAA Division I National Championship in Salina, Kan.
Henry hadn’t heard the team’s new motto, but she liked it.
“That’s what it feels like,” Henry said. “This group is so hungry to do well, and we are really pleased with where we started and where we are.”
On Saturday, the Lady Cavs were all over the place — in a good way — creating turnovers and causing Central Georgia Tech (13-14, 7-10) all sorts of trouble with their defensive pressure. Darton put together a 13-3 run to end the first half, taking a 34-15 lead into halftime. The Lady Cavs didn’t let up in the second half as they continued to build their lead until the very end when Smalls scored 11 points in the final five minutes.
Brown, the team’s second-leading scorer, had 12 points, while Chan Fann had 10 points. Point guard Lauren Johnson quarterbacked the floor with ease, dishing out nine assists and scoring six points. Former Dougherty star LaKandra Beeks added five points in seven minutes of playing time.
GSW WOMEN WIN HOMECOMING GAME, MEN FALL:
AMERICUS — Terra Branch scored 20 points to lead the Georgia Southwestern women to a 69-51 victory against Montevallo during the Lady Hurricanes’ Winter Homecoming on Saturday.
The Lady Hurricanes, who have now won four games in a row, improved to 16-6 overall and 8-5 in the Peach Belt Conference and are now tied for second in the PBC West Division standings with Clayton State.
GSW and Clayton State will battle it out for outright second place Wednesday night in Americus in a rematch of a Dec. 14 game that Clayton State won, 66-62.
Also scoring in double figures Saturday for the Lady Hurricanes were Jessica Bivins (12), Tania Walters (11) and Samantha Smith (10).
GSW MEN LOSE: The defending PBC West Division champion Hurricanes are on the brink of missing the conference tournament after losing Saturday’s game to Montevallo, 60-48.
Evan Mobley scored 14, but it wasn’t enough to prevent GSW (12-10, 3-10) from losing its third straight and seventh of its last eight.
Rams swept on road by Shorter College
ROME — When the Albany State pitchers can’t find the plate, it’s been difficult for the Rams to find a win.
ASU’s pitching staff walked 17 in Saturday’s doubleheader against Shorter University (6-3) and got swept to fall to 1-5 this season. The Rams lost the opener, 7-2, and dropped the second game, 12-6.
In the opener, Shorter jumped on the Rams early by scoring three in the first and one in the second. The Hawks poured on three more runs in the sixth inning before ASU got on the board with a pair of runs in the seventh. ASU starter Demonzio Stubbs and his relievers allowed just four hits in the game but walked 12 in seven innings.
In Game 2, Shorter used a five-run fifth inning to pull away from the Rams. Starter Clifford Peterson had the lead when he left in the fourth inning, but reliever Justin Nichols gave it up in the next inning.
Both Shorter and Albany State notched 10 hits in Game 2, but the Rams stranded 12 runners in the loss.
ASU’s Ryan Latner was 3-for-3 in the first game, while Rickey Harris went 2-for-4 in both games.
Shorter and Albany State will wrap up their three-game series tomorrow at 1 p.m.
ASU hoops teams lose to rival FVSU; ATC men, women both fall
FORT VALLEY — The Albany State women’s basketball team slipped even further under .500 with a 65-56 loss Saturday to host Fort Valley State, the No. 2 team in the conference.
It was the fourth loss in the last five games for ASU, and it left coach Robert Skinner “disappointed” as his team dropped to 8-14 overall and 8-10 in the conference.
“I’m really disappointed in our performance,” Skinner said. “I don’t feel like we came out with enough intensity. I don’t know what we need to do to pick up in scoring, but we just aren’t scoring.”
Bainbridge grad April Thomas had a team-high 18 points and continued to be the Lady Rams’ only consistent scorer. Kourtney Alexander added 10 points, and former Randolph-Clay star Precious Peak scored four points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Fort Valley (16-6, 14-4) led by four at halftime before pulling away in the second half by capitalizing on ASU’s poor free-throw shooting (12-for-22) and outrebounding the Lady Rams, 61-41.
The Lady Rams get back on the court Tuesday at home against Benedict, the No. 4 team in the conference.
The Albany State men also lost Saturday night, 66-59, to Fort Valley, but no other information was available at The Herald’s press time.
ATC SWEPT: The Albany Tech men’s and women’s basketball teams struggled on offense in a home doubleheader Saturday and got swept by Region XVII foe Georgia Perimeter.
The Albany Tech men (14-14, 8-8) shot just 27 percent from the field to fall, 49-39, while the Lady Titans (15-12, 7-9) committed a season-high 36 turnovers to lose, 69-40.
Shakima Wiggins, who finished with 17 points, was the only Lady Titan to score in double figures. Bianca Fennessee, who averages nearly 15 points and 17 rebounds a game, was held to a season-low five points and 13 rebounds.
“It’s tough to win with 36 turnovers,” said Lady Titans coach Kenneth Williams, who was pretty sure the turnover total was the highest in the three-year history of the program. “They rushed us and sped us up, and we had a whole lot of unforced turnovers. Once we slowed down we beat the press, but the majority of the time that’s not what we were doing.”
Worth County grad Jamorris Gaines finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for the men’s team but was the only Titan to score more than six points.
“It was about who was the toughest team, and Georgia Perimeter was more physical than we were (Saturday),” Titans coach Sylvester Patterson said. “They did a great defensive job on us. They really disrupted our offense.”
Gaines had 14 points at halftime and the Titans trailed by just two at the break, but Georgia Perimeter shut down Gaines and the rest of his Albany Tech teammates in the second half.