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No. 4 Dougherty girls top No. 5 Americus-Sumter in Fab 5 duel

Amber Ward hit the game-winner for Dougherty on Tuesday to beat Americus-Sumter and led the Lady Trojans with 10 points.

Amber Ward hit the game-winner for Dougherty on Tuesday to beat Americus-Sumter and led the Lady Trojans with 10 points.

AMERICUS — The Dougherty Lady Trojans lost their lead Tuesday night in Americus.

But they didn’t lose their fight.

Especially not Amber Ward.

“This is a special team,” Ward said. “We work hard. We never quit. Even if there is a second left on the clock, we keep fighting until it’s over.”

The junior caught a fluke pass from teammate Takiya Davis with 28 seconds left, took one dribble toward the basket and sank a floater to lift the Herald No. 4 Lady Trojans past No. 5 Americus-Sumter, 35-34.

Dougherty, which has won four in a row and is suddenly near the top of the Region 1-AAAA standings, led by as many as 13 points midway through the third quarter, but Americus stormed back to take the lead — which was eventually snagged back by Ward.

“One thing I can say about my players is that they never give up,” Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson said. “They play hard all the way through. Even when Quannesha Gatling fouled out (with two minutes left) we didn’t give up. We sucked it up and played through the adversity of losing one of our Trojans and came together and made something happen.”

Dougherty (9-5, 6-2) stayed in second place in the region behind Monroe, while Americus fell to 10-5 overall and 4-4 in the region and slipped to No. 5 in the standings.

On a night where neither team shot the ball well, Ward hit her second 3-pointer of the game with 5:12 left to give Dougherty a 33-29 lead, but the Lady Panthers went on a 5-0 run down the stretch before Ward’s game-winner.

And it was a game-winner that might have never happened.

“(Davis) was trying to pass it to Ra’Keta Shelton, but I caught it instead,” said Ward, who led all scorers with 10 points. “I was behind Ra’Keta and it went past her, and my thought was to just get the ball into the basket so we can win this game.”

Americus had a chance to regain the lead in the final seconds, but Kayla Bowens missed a layup with 10 seconds left, and Tanyette Hill missed back-to-back free throws with 8.2 seconds left after being fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound.

“I tell them all the time that it’s going to come down to free throws,” Americus coach Evelyn Wright said. “When you are on that line and nobody is guarding you, you have to make that.”

There were other factors, however, in the Americus loss.

The Lady Panthers shot just 4-for-37 from the field in the first half and missed their first 22 3-pointers, eventually finishing 3-for-34 from behind the arc.

AMERICUS BOYS 69, DOUGHERTY 61: Michael Russell scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to help the host Panthers get back to .500.

Americus-Sumter (7-7, 3-5 Region 1-AAAA) led by five at halftime and extended its lead to 10 heading into the fourth quarter, where the Panthers scored 23 points to hold off Dougherty.

Americus, which avenged a loss to Dougherty earlier in the season, also got 12 points from Adam King and 11 points from D.J. Harris Dougherty, which has just one region victory this season, was led by Shun Wheller’s 19 points, while Tevin Smith added 10.

The Trojans play again Friday at home against Albany, and Americus is in action Friday at Monroe.