Darton State College freshman guard Jasmine Wilson (20) puts up a shot over the defense of South Georgia Tech’s Portia McCray during the first half of Friday’s Region XVII tournament semifinal game. Wilson scored 16 points in the 70-60 victory.
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WHO: No. 3 seed Chattahoochee Tech women (25-7) at No. 1 Darton State College (28-3).
WHAT: GCAA Region XVII championship game.
WHEN: 2 p.m. today.
WHERE: Cavalier Arena.
LIVE UPDATES: Go to: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — There may be something magical about Cavalier Arena at Darton State College.
Then again, maybe it’s just the Lady Cavs who possess the magic.
Darton stayed unbeaten at home, improving to 15-0 on the season at Cavalier Arena with a 70-60 win against local rival South Georgia Tech on Friday in the semifinals of the GCAA Region XVII tournament, right where they were knocked off last year in Savannah.
The Lady Jets had taken Darton (28-3), the No. 1 seed in Region XVII, to overtime earlier in the year before falling, 52-50, on Darton’s home court, so they weren’t worried about playing in Albany.
They were just worried about the Lady Cavs.
“It’s not like we came out of the locker room and said, ‘Oh, crap. We’re playing Darton at Darton,’ ” SGT first-year head coach James Frey said. “I think there’s a comfort level. This is home, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re pretty darn good.”
The win advances the Lady Cavs to the tournament finals today at 2 p.m. against No. 3 seed Chattahoochee Tech (25-7) for a chance to host the NJCAA District J Championship next Friday. Chattahoochee Tech defeated Georgia Perimeter, 64-61, in the second semifinal game Friday at Darton.
Most of the Lady Cavs either have no memory of last year’s loss in the semis or a short memory.
“In junior college, it’s a new team (each year),” Darton second-year head coach Lea Henry said. “You really don’t even think too much about last year or next year. You’re just focused on the moment with these kids and trying to help them be as successful as they can. Most of our team doesn’t even know what happened last year.”
Darton, ranked a program-best 11th in the NJCAA national rankings, played like it was the favorite in the first 10 minutes, using an 18-2 run to open the game.
“We just came out ready to play,” Darton sophomore and Region XVII Player of the Year Michelle Mitchell said. “Coach just told us to come out and play good defense, and that’s what we did.”
Mitchell led the Lady Cavs with 18 points, while freshman guard Jasmine Wilson scored 16 points.
Mitchell added seven assists, while Wilson filled up the stat sheet with four boards, five assists and four steals.
After trailing 26-7 in the first half, the Lady Jets (20-12, Region 17 No. 5 seed) cut the lead to 40-26 at the half and got as close as nine points in the second half before ending their season. The Lady Cavs answered every time SGT got close to regaining momentum after the cold start to open the game.
“We dug a hole that was just too big for us to overcome,” Frey said. “You get down to Darton, the No. 12 team in the country, by (20 points) you can easily tuck your tail. We wanted to get it under 10 and maybe we could make a run. We got it to nine, but just ran out of gas and ran out of time.”
Shaquaya Daniels, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half and added 12 assists, sank two free throws with 2:50 left to slice the Darton lead to 63-54, but Darton’s Chanteniece Fann, Wilson and Mitchell combined to go 7-for-8 at the line to seal the trip to the conference finals.
For Mitchell, who was a part of the 20-win team last season that fell in the Region 17 semifinals a year ago, it was sweet redemption while knowing much can still be accomplished.
“Everybody can score now and we all work together,” Mitchell said of getting over the semifinal hurdle. “We’re just going to keep working. It isn’t over with.”
Portia McCray led the Lady Jets with 20 points and seven rebounds. SGT Region 17 second-team selection Nikkei Blackburn was held to seven points, but pulled down 10 boards.
Fann added 14 in the Darton win, while Iesha Bonner chipped in 10 to give the Lady Cavs’ four players in double figures. Darton shot 53 percent from the field Friday, while SGT outscored the Lady Cavs 34-30 in the second half after shooting just 31 percent in the first 20 minutes.
Now the national stage awaits Darton and only Chattahoochee Tech’s Lady Golden Eagles, who were swept by Darton during the regular season, stand in the way. They’ll need to do something no one has been able to this year – win at Cavalier Arena.
“We have a great crowd,” Henry said of the home court advantage. “There was great energy in the gym and our players really feed off that.”