Monroe’s Jomekia Morine, left, and Herald Super 6er Key Key Price and congratulate each other after Friday’s Region 1-AAAA tournament win against city rival Dougherty, 60-51, which capped an amazing five-year transformation from a four-win program to region champions. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — They deserved it.
That’s what Monroe girls coach Cheryl Cheeks said after her team avenged a tough loss to city-rival Dougherty with a 60-51 victory Friday night in a packed gym at Monroe, where the Lady Tornadoes came out firing and never trailed to win the Region 1-AAAA title.
“Our girls work hard, as hard as anyone. We deserved this as much as anyone,” said Cheeks, who has seen the program grow from a four-win team five years ago into a title-town group of kids, who may be just getting started.
“We wanted to win the region,” Cheeks added. “But we have a long way to go.’’
Monroe (21-6) could now be at home through the first three rounds of the Class AAAA state playoffs, which begin next week, right there on Lippitt Drive, where the kids danced off the court in celebration Friday night with the first girls basketball title since 1998.
“We really wanted to win the region and we really wanted to beat Dougherty,’’ said Monroe freshman Jomekia Morine, who led the Lady Tornadoes with 22 points on a night when Monroe needed everything it had to stop Dougherty’s Ra’Keta Shelton, who had a monster game for the Lady Trojans.
“She (Shelton) is amazing,‘’ Morine said after the game.
No one could argue.
Shelton, a junior, finished with 27 points and 22 rebounds and left the court in tears, making a statement for Dougherty, which did everything but win the title. The Lady Trojans will be at home in the playoffs next week as the No. 2 seed, and Shelton and her team may have a long way to go, too.
It was a rubber match almost every basketball fan in the Good Life City wanted to see between two rivals who played two completely different games earlier.
Monroe ripped Dougherty 73-55 in the season opener at the Civic Center, but the Lady Trojans, who lost three of their first five games, improved more than any team this season and knocked off Monroe, 51-50 on Jan. 25 at Darton, where the game ended in joy and anguish on the final on the final play. Price hit a drive just before the buzzer to lift Monroe to a 52-51 victory, but the basket was wiped out because of a charging call on the play, and Dougherty survived and moved into a tie with the Lady Tornadoes for first place in the region.
“We felt that this was a redemption game,’’ Morine said. “We wanted to beat them real bad after what happened in that last game.’’
Morine said that’s why she had such an incredible game.
“I had to do it for the seniors, for my team, for the student body at Monroe and for our fans,’’ she said. “They had our back. We had to win it for them.”
The rivalry was one of the best anywhere this year — especially after the last game left Dougherty leaping for joy and left Monroe looking for revenge.
The two teams had been waiting since Jan. 25 to decide who was the best team in the region and in Albany, and you could feel the drama and tension before the opening tipoff.
Herald super 6er Key Key Price couldn’t wait. She opened the game by busting two treys, sending the packed house to its feet as Monroe grabbed a 6-0 lead. The Lady Tornadoes kept coming and when Price hit a drive it was a 10-1 game.
That didn’t faze Dougherty’s gritty and gutsy group, which fought back, despite turning the ball over 10 times in the first quarter. Monroe was still leading 15-7 in the first when Dougherty had a 5-0 run to finish the quarter at 15-12.
It stayed that way most of the night -- Monroe sprinting out to 6-7 and 8-point leads only to see Dougherty storm back to make it close. Monroe built the lead to 27-19 left in the second, but Shelton sparked a 7-0 run to close to 27-26. Shelton, who scored nine pints and grabbed eight rebounds in the second quarter alone, scored six of those points, but Fantaza Stroud came off the bench and hit a huge 3 for Monroe with 54 seconds left. Then Ward answered with a 3 for Dougherty and the bang-bang 3s had the crowd in a frenzy. Davone Anduze ended the half with a free throw to give Monroe a 33-31 lead.
Shelton went to the break with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the Lady Trojans made only 9 of 27 free throws in the first half, and Monroe, which hit 5 treys in the first half, had a lead it would never relinquish.
Monroe hit seven 3-pointers for the night, including two by Lynsey Washington, a freshman who came off the bench, two by Price and one each from Morine, Cedrianna Waters and Stroud.
Waters finished with 10 points and six rebounds, and Price finished with eight points — the ones she scored in the opening minutes of the game.
Dougherty had big efforts from Quannesha Gatling (six points) and Ward, who hit two 3’ and finished with eight points. But no matter what Monroe did, Shelton seemed to be there with the answer, and by the fourth quarter she looked exhausted after a memorable performance no one at Monroe will soon forget.
She went to the fourth quarter with 26 points and 19 rebounds, but the Lady Tornadoes took over down the stretch to win it. Shelton’s putback closed the score to 49-45 late in the third quarter, but Morine hit a 3-pointer, and then — after a Dougherty turnover — she drove the baseline to give Monroe a 51-45 lead as the teams headed for the fourth.
Anduze hit a putback and Morine went baseline again to make it a 55-47 game with 4:50 left, and after Morine hit a free throw, Anduze was alone on a fast break and suddenly Monroe had a 10-point cushion — 58-48 — with 2:30 left in the game. Dougherty could manage only six points in the fourth, including five by Takiya Davis, who hit an outside shot to start the quarter and hit a 3 in the final minute of the game.
“(That earlier game) was in the back of our mind,’’ Cheeks said. “But but we deserved this because of our hard work and that’s why we got it. (Morine) played an outstanding game; hopefully we will continue to see her play like this as we continue to play.’’
That’s what Monroe is looking for now — the road ahead, the one that leads to Macon and a possible state title.