South Georgia Tech women's basketball coach Brandan Harrell led the Lady Jets to their first region mark in school history when they beat Middle Georgia in their regular-season finale.
AMERICUS — South Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach Brandan Harrell remembers breaking the news to his players less than three months ago.
He remembers the looks on their faces, the pain in their eyes.
It’s what made Saturday even sweeter.
After being forced to forfeit their first six games of the season — of which they won four — the Lady Jets went on an incredible run in the regular season, which culminated with a 62-49 victory against Middle Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
The win, which was the Lady Jets’ 15th in a row, gave South Georgia Tech (22-8, 18-0) its second regular-season Region XVII title and its first undefeated region record since Harrell started the program eight years ago.
“We have had teams that have rivaled this team with talent and athleticism,” said Harrell, who was named the Region XVII Coach of the Year this week. “But this team enjoys each other and enjoys playing with each other. I think that’s what made the difference.”
Harrell could tell it was a special group of girls by the way they handled the news of the forfeits, which happened because Ca’Nesha Coley played the first six games despite being academically ineligible.
“At first we called Ca’Nesha in and told her,” Harrell said. “And then we explained to the team that it wasn’t her fault. It was (the coaches’) fault. She didn’t do anything wrong. It was an error on my part.”
All of a sudden, the Lady Jets were looking at an 0-6 record, but Harrell said they handled it with poise.
“I think initially they were taken back a little,” he said. “A little stunned because it was probably the last thing they thought we would talk about that day. After the meeting they understood that those games in the scheme of things didn’t affect our goal.”
It turns out, nothing was going to affect their goal. They ran the table in the region and did so in convincing fashion, winning all but four region games by double figures.
“It shocks me that they were able to do that,” Harrell said. “I think it says volumes about them. When all that happened, we talked about how it hurts, but they can’t take away what we learned in those games. They couldn’t take away how far we had come and all the good things we had done. This group really put their head down and started working. As we got a couple of wins, their confidence started building.”
Shontae McCall, who was recently named the region’s Player of the Year, was one of several Lady Jets who regrouped and kept her eyes on the ultimate goal. McCall had 10 points and 13 rebounds Saturday against Middle Georgia, while Shanique Holston scored a team-high 16 points, and Samantha Phillips and Inna Leja added 14 and 12, respectively.
The Lady Jets will be the No. 1 seed in the region tournament for the second time in three years and will open up with No. 8 Chattahoochee Tech at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Americus.