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Darton drubs Albany Tech in Game 1 of rivalry series

In the first meeting of the year between local rivals Darton and Albany Tech, freshman Michelle Mitchell (21) and the Lady Cavs got the better of former Westover star Latisha Williams (35) the Lady Titans as Mitchell posted a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the 57-36 win. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

In the first meeting of the year between local rivals Darton and Albany Tech, freshman Michelle Mitchell (21) and the Lady Cavs got the better of former Westover star Latisha Williams (35) the Lady Titans as Mitchell posted a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the 57-36 win. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Christina Brown aptly summarized Darton’s defense following the Lady Cavs’ 57-36 blowout win against city and region rival Albany Tech on Tuesday.

“It’s unstoppable,” said the 5-foot-6 shooting guard, who led the team with four steals.

Unstoppable. Relentless. Unyielding.

There were plenty of ways to describe a Darton defense that forced 24 Albany Tech turnovers and held the Lady Titans some 36 points under their season average.

Darton freshman Michelle Mitchell, who was nearly equally as unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball, scored a game-high 25 points — two points shy of her career-high — and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds in a game that the Lady Cavs controlled from the opening tipoff to improve to 9-5 overall and 4-2 in Region XVII.

“We got pushed around,” said Albany Tech coach Kenneth Williams, whose Lady Titans fell to 11-4 and lost their first game in Region XVII play, dropping to 3-1. “We got frustrated a lot on offense. If you told me that Darton would shoot 32 percent, I’m thinking that there is no way we lose by 20 — no way in the world. But defense wins games and defense wins championships. And that’s what they did. They played tough defense, and we just didn’t respond to the physicality.”

Albany Tech entered the game led by Bianca Fennessee and Shakima Wiggins — a two-headed scoring machine that has the Lady Titans in the midst of their best season in the three-year history of the program.

On Tuesday, they were no match for the in-your-face, full-court defense that was on display in Darton’s Cavalier Arena.

“Our team really understood that we had to do a good job on their two key players. We had to help on those two key players,” Darton first-year coach Lea Henry said. “Michelle did a really good job on Wiggins, and then I thought (Lakandra) Beeks and (Chanteniece) Fann defended Fennessee really well. We were physical with her, our guards helped and we kept her off the boards in the first half.”

Wiggins, who entered the game with the third-highest scoring average in the nation, was held to nine points on 3-of-15 from the field, while Fennessee was 4-for-13 from the field for a team-high 10 points. Fennessee, the leading rebounder in the NJCAA at 17.9 boards per game, also grabbed 13 rebounds and had four blocks.

“Now we know how they are really going to play us next time,” Wiggins said about Darton’s physical style of defense.

Fennessee said she is already looking forward to the Feb. 18 rematch between the two teams at Albany State.

“The rematch is the last game (of the regular season), and I am ready for it. I was ready this game, and I will be more ready next game,” Fennessee said. “I just told my teammates (after Tuesday’s game) that we aren’t going to have another game like this. The next time we get on the court, I hope we are ready for whatever.”

Albany Tech is now 0-3 at Darton since the Lady Titans’ program began, and Mitchell made sure Tuesday that the Lady Cavs were going to keep that home winning streak alive. The Eastman native and former Dodge County star was 11-for-21 from the floor and had three steals and two assists to go along with her double-double.

“You just have to find her,” Fennessee said about Mitchell. “Because if you don’t find her, it’s going in the hole. She is very athletic, and she knows where to be at the right time.”

While everyone else — from both teams — was praising Mitchell after the game, she was more excited about how her defense shut down the high-scoring Lady Titans.

“Our defense set the tone for the night and helped us come out with the strong win,” she said. “Our techniques (make the defense good). We just get after it hard, and that’s what defense is all about.”

The Lady Cavs jumped ahead 5-0 in the opening minutes thanks to steals on Albany Tech’s first three possessions and field goals from Brown and Fann, who each finished with nine points.

The Lady Titans, however, went on a 6-0 run to take the lead five minutes into the low-scoring first half. Darton answered with a 13-0 run and never relinquished the lead again.

“I was really pleased with our effort,” Henry said. “Our players were focused and ready for the game. I was proud of how we defended and rebounded. We forced them into 24 turnovers, and that kind of speaks for itself because we scored a lot off of those turnovers.”

Lauren Johnson added seven points and a game-high seven assists for the Lady Cavs, who are on the road Thursday at Georgia Perimeter and Saturday at Chattahoochee Tech.

Shater Fortner finished with seven points and Lashay Lettingham added five points, four rebounds and four blocks for the Lady Titans, who next play Thursday against Central Georgia Tech and then again Saturday against Middle Georgia College.

GORDON COLLEGE MEN 92, ALBANY TECH 76: Former Westover star and Willie Boston Player of the Year Terrance Noel scored a career-high 31 points, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Titans past a Gordon College team that was on fire from 3-point range.

Gordon College, which picked up its first Region XVII victory and snapped a three-game losing streak, hit 13-of-20 3-pointers. The Titans, who committed 21 turnovers against Gordon’s half-court trap defense, shot just 52 percent from the free throw line and missed a number of layups, fell to 8-8 overall and 2-2 in the region.

Also for Albany Tech, former Worth County star Jamorris Gaines had 22 points and former Terrell County star Robert Ellis had six points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. The Titans play again Thursday at region foe Central Georgia Tech.