Lee County’s Katherine McConnell, right, puts up a shot over the Bainbridge defense during Tuesday’s Region 1-AAAAA tournament game in Leesburg. Lee won, 51-41. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEESBURG — Lee County’s girls basketball team is back in the state playoffs, but they aren’t settling for just that.
The Lady Trojans clinched an invite to the Class AAAAA playoffs Tuesday with a 54-41 win against Bainbridge in the first round of the Region 1-AAAAA tournament.
“My stomach was in knots,” Lee County’s first-year head coach Tondra Davis said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Junior Katherine McConnell led Lee County (7-18) with 18 points.
McConnell was five off a season high, and she believes the Lady Trojans have more work to do deeper into the region playoffs Friday in Bainbridge against an opponent yet to be determined.
“My shots fell in the first quarter, but we all played a little more hesitant in the second,” she said. “We came back out in the second half and got the momentum going.”
Lee led, 20-5, early in the second quarter before the Lady Bearcats (6-19) cut it to 24-17 at the half. The Lady Trojans built the lead back to 39-26 on Briana Scott’s driving lay-in at the end of the third. Bainbridge hit five 3s in the second half to stay in the game, but Lee County won with defense.
“After giving up so many points in the second quarter, defense was going to win this game,” Davis said. “We’re excited (to be in the playoffs).”
Lee and Bainbridge split in the regular season. Lee County got 13 points from Scott in the win.
Bainbridge was led by Beonka Madge’s 14 points, including nine on three 3-pointers.
The Lady Trojans will play the winner of Harris County and Thomas County Central on Friday for seeding the playoffs.
“We’ve still got work to do,” Davis said. “As long as we keep winning our seed will be better, and we want have to play that top seed in the (first round of state).”
Either way, it’s good to be back in the dance for the Lady Trojans.
“We knew we could pick up where we left off (under the previous regime) if we all worked together,” McConnell said. “Coach Davis has made a lot of good changes and we’ve got a different mindset now.”
LEE BOYS SEASON ENDS ONE WIN SHY OF STATE:
LEESBURG – There were moments Tuesday in the first round of the Region 1-AAAAA tournament in whuch Lee County looked like a playoff contender.
And then there were moments of anguish and season-ending pain. There were no tears, though, after the Trojans were denied their first playoff appearance in five seasons during a 58-45 loss to Thomas County Central.
Lee County and a band of players who have never experienced playoff basketball missed their chance in the final five minutes, but the lessons learned were far reaching.
“In order to understand moments, it has to be familiar,” said Trojans first-year head coach Kirven Davis, who took over a four-win team and turned out 10 wins this season, including the program's first region win in five seasons. “This was their first time in a tournament moment and there was inexperience in the moment. It comes with time.”
That deciding moment came with Lee County, which was down 24-16 at halftime before tying the game in the third quarter, was trailing just 39-38 with 6:14 left to play. Junior center Stephen Collier, the physical and emotional captain on the court, picked up his fifth foul with 4:51 left and the Trojans didn’t make another field goal for more than four minutes.
“That’s our leader,” Davis said of Collier. “He just keeps our team together.”
Dreams of postseason play fell apart in that moment and Thomas County Central took full advantage when Yellow Jackets sharpshooter Matt Priest drained his third 3-pointer of the second half to put TCC ahead 47-39 with 3:44 to play.
“Our inexperience showed,” Davis said. “The experienced team won (Tuesday). I won’t take any credit from what they do over there.”
By the time Aaron May, who led the Trojans with 18 points, hit a short jumper at the 1:52 mark, TCC (11-13) had taken a 51-43 lead. The Yellow Jackets went 11-for-14 from the free throw line in the final three minutes to seal their place in the Class AAAAA playoffs and send the Trojans home, although the turnaround had been completed.
“A group of kids not even thought of in the breath of going to the state tournament, to being a legitimate contender,” Davis said of the transformation. “I’m so very proud of them. They really embraced everything I’ve tried to teach them.”
Lee County (10-15) had tied the game at 30-30 in the third quarter after rallying from an offensive depression in the first half by outscoring TCC, 14-10, in the third. The Yellow Jackets responded with 24 fourth-quarter points and got 18 points from point guard Devan Jones for the game.
Lee County also got nine points each from seniors Reggie Breedlove and Jaysyn Brown.