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GIRLS BASKETBALL STATE TOURNAMENT: Monroe, Dougherty headline Sweet 16

Monroe Super 6er Sheniqua Young shoots over an opponent in a game earlier this season. Young and the Lady Tornadoes play at Sandy Creek tonight with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line.

Monroe Super 6er Sheniqua Young shoots over an opponent in a game earlier this season. Young and the Lady Tornadoes play at Sandy Creek tonight with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line.

ALBANY — Surprised the Monroe girls are in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs?

They aren’t.

“No, not at all,’’ said Monroe girls coach Cheryl Cheeks, whose Lady Tornadoes left the Region 1-AAA tournament as the No. 3 seed and knocked out Rutland, the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AAA, 49-36, in the first round to advance to tonight’s Sweet 16 game at Sandy Creek.

Sandy Creek is the top seed from Region 4-AAA, but that doesn’t seem to bother Monroe.

“We just have to play defense the way we can play defense,’’ Cheeks said. “That’s the key to the game for us, defense.’’

The Tornadoes swarm like few teams anywhere, and forced 31 turnovers in their first round win. They also got a big game from freshman Keshondra “KeyKey” Price, who led the way with 16 points.

“That was her best game,’’ said Cheeks, who has been watching Price grow into her role down the stretch as the freshman has become an huge part of Monroe’s success.

“She could be something special. She could be the next DyTiesha,’’ Cheeks said, referring to Westover star DyTiesha Dunson, who has been the best girls player in Albany for the last three seasons.

Monroe (19-8) looks pretty special right now. The Lady Tornadoes have been tough down the stretch, handing Westover it’s first loss and snapping the Lady Patriots’ season-long 23-game winning streak in the final week of the season.

They made it to the Sweet 16 two years ago, but this year’s team is deeper, and the proof is the way Monroe has kept winning after one of the team’s leaders, Chelsea Cox, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third-place game of the Region 1-AAA tournament. Monroe went on to beat Dougherty, 44-40, and then knocked off Rutland on the road without Cox, who was averaging 14 points a game.

“Without their leader on the court, the other girls stepped up,’’ said Cheeks, who replaced Cox in the lineup with her younger sister. Paige Cox. The Lady Tornadoes have been led in scoring most of the season by Herald Super 6er Sheniqua Young, who is usually deadly from 3-point range. But she went 0-for-7 against Rutland and finished with 11 points. But Price had her best game of the year, and Monroe’s unrelenting defense forced 31 turnovers.

The game plan is the same for tonight’s game at Sandy Creek (20-9), where the Lady Patriots are 13-1 at home this season.

“I don’t know anything about them, but we are going to go up there and play our game,’’ Cheeks said. “We’re going up there to win.’’

That would be no surprise to Monroe fans.

If Monroe beats Sandy Creek and Westover beats Washington County, the two city rivals would face off in the Elite 8 on Friday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.

DOUGHERTY FEELING GOOD ABOUT THE RUN: Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson knows the book on Hephzibah all too well. She has been friends with Hephzibah coach Wendell Lofton for “many, many years,’’ she said.

She knows what to expect when her Lady Trojans hit the road for a Sweet 16 game tonight at 6 p.m. at Hephzibah (18-7).

“They’re scrappy and they shoot 3s,’’ Jackson said. “They like to run the floor. That’s their style of play.’’

That shouldn’t bother Dougherty, a tough, athletic team that can run and leap with just about anyone. The Lady Trojans, flipped their season around last week when — after finishing fourth in the Region 1-AAA tournament, they knocked off No. 1 seeded Mary Persons to get to the Sweet 16. Last year Dougherty entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed, and was upset at home in the first round.

“Since we didn’t get out of the first round last year, it really feels good to get to the second round this year, and it builds our confidence,’’ Jackson said. “We’re playing a No. 3 (Hephzibah) but at this point it doesn’t matter. It’s all about competing.’’

Jackson said she likes the look of her team in the state playoffs. Dougherty hasn’t advanced to the Elite 8 round in seven years, but Jackson thinks this year’s team is good enough, especially after the 51-49 win in overtime against Mary Persons.

“We didn’t give up at the end of that game, and that game could have gone either way,’’ she said. “I liked the leadership I saw from Terrianna Martin and Shawntel Bryd at the end of that game, and Shawntel Bryd has really stepped it up offensively. She has always been a (great) defensive player, and now she is stepping up offensively. And Ra’Keta Shelton is starting to find herself again.’’

Byrd is a key, because she is such a tenacious player on defense, and Shelton can be an X factor for Dougherty, because when the sophomore puts up points, it opens everything up for the Lady Trojans, who can dominate the boards with Martin and Jayla Hooper.

They will have to win again on the road, but that’s not a problem for Jackson’s kids, who didn’t have home gym to play in all year.

“We’ve been playing on the road all year,’’ Jackson said. ‘We’re accustomed to. We didn’t have a home gym, and we played in all those Christmas tournaments.’’

If Dougherty wins, the Lady Trojans could face Region 1-AAA rival Crisp County in the Elite 8 in Milledgeville. Crisp plays Westside, Augusta on Wednesday.

ALBANY FACING GOLIATH: Albany’s Squaws pulled off a big win last week to advance to the second round of the Class AA state playoffs tonight, but got no help in the draw.

The Squaws face Morgan County, which is not only ranked No. 7 in the Class AA state poll, but enters the game with a 27-1 record and an 11-game winning streak.

“They lost to Laney in the Elite 8 last year,’’ said Albany coach Telly Turner, whose team is the No. 3 seed from Region 1-AA. “And they brought back 13 seniors from that team, and have lost one game all year.’’

Then she paused and said.

“We all know the story of David and Goliath. Well, we know what we have to do, and we’re going there to win the game.’’

Albany (13-11) is led by Herald Super 6er Chasity Mullins, who is averaging about 18 points and eight rebounds a game, and got a big lift when Briana Williams rejoined the team during the region tournament after suffering a concussion earlier. Williams runs the point and the break along with Mullins, and both know how to lead on both ends of the court.

Albany has also had big moments from Kairsha Jackson and Ladaisha Greene during the stretch run.

If the Squaws win they would face the winner of the Thomasville-Laney game this weekend in Savannah, which could mean a fourth meeting against Region 1-AA rival Thomasville.

PELHAM FEELING LIKE 1997: The Pelham Lady Hornets, ranked fourth in The Herald Fab 5 poll and ranked No. 10 in the Class A state poll, had no trouble bouncing back from being upset in the Region 1-A title game by Mitchell County — a team that has been on fire of late.

Pelham won the region title last year and then was knocked out in the first round of the state playoffs. Not this year.

The Lady Hornets not only knocked off Turner County, 53-42, in the first round, but the they caught a break when Greenville, the No.4 seed from Region 4, upset Calvary Day, the top-seed from Region 3, in the other bracket.

That gave Pelham the homecourt advantage for tonight’s 6 p.m. tipoff against Greenville, and momentum to try to reach the Elite 8 for the first time in years.

“I think the last time they reached the Elite 8 was in 1997,’’ said Pelham coach Antonio Tookes, who took over the program last year. “The 1997 team won the state title, and that team also lost the region title and was the region runnerup when it started the state playoffs.

“Yes, I have told that to my team a few times already for motivation,’’ she added. “I’ve definitely used that a lot.’’

It could be an omen.

The Lady Hornets (25-4) have been one of the top Class A teams in the state all season, but will need another big game to beat Greenville (22-4).

“Anybody who is left in the state tournament, any of the 16 teams has got to be good,’’ Tookes said. “To beat Calvary Day, that’s no joke.’’

But the way Pelham bounced back says a lot about the program — and this year’s kids.

“Give credit to Mitchell County, but (my team) took the challenge after losing the region title game, and we talked about how it didn’t matter. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to go further than we went last year, and we have done that. Our goal was to win 20 games, and we’ve won 25 games. And our goal now is to keep winning.’’

Pelham has a three-headed monster with freshman Briunna Freeman (17 points, 12 rebounds), Octavia Kierce (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Shay Reece (11 points) leading the way.

If Pelham wins, the Lady Hornets face the winner of the Taylor County-Wilcox County game in the Elite 8 in Milledgeville on Friday.

BAINBRIDGE IS ALIVE AND FIRING 3s: One of the biggest surprises in the Class AAAA state playoffs has been the Bainbridge Lady Bearcats, who knocked off top-seeded Richmond Hill, 62-53, in the first round last week after entering as a fourth seed from Region 1-AAAA.

Bainbridge (17-11) nailed nine 3-pointers last week, and coach Kelvin Cochran would like to see more of that on the road tonight for the 6 p.m. Sweet 16 game against Region 4 No. 2 Forest Park (22-6).

“We’ve got to go in and match (Forest Park’s) intensity,’’ Cochran said. “They have two real good guards and they have a good post players. They’re big and physical and rebound well.’’

The biggest surprise for Bainbridge has been freshman Alex Carter, who made a career-high five 3s last week, including a back-breaker in the final minute when Bainbridge was up by two points.

“They kicked the ball out to her and I was saying, ‘No, no, no when she shot the 3, and then yes, yes, yes when she made it,’ ” Cochran said. “Everybody knows where we are at right now. I’ve told the girls, it’s win or go home. I guess they don’t want to go home.’’

If Bainbridge wins, the Lady Bearcats meet the winner of the Warner Robins-Alcovy game at Fort Valley State in the Elite 8 on Saturday.

Mitchell County’s girls meet Claxton at 5 p.m at Mitchell County in the Class A Sweet 16 as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday and Crisp County hosts Westside, Augusta at 6 p.m. Wednesday as part of a girls-boys doubleheader.