Yes, that is Randolph-Clay star Whenekia Washington walking off the court Thursday in Macon — she’s just wearing a purple and gold Jones County uniform, rather than the red and black of the Lady Red Devils. A miscommunication by the GHSA about what uniforms Randolph was supposed to wear left R-C scrambling — and certainly a little upset and shaken — hours before Thursday’s state title game against Gordon Lee. Jones County offered its jerseys to state No. 1-ranked Randolph, which slipped them on just before the game — then went out and lost, 61-56, in a stunning upset. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
Southwest Georgia prep basketball team at center of uniform controversy for second straight season
MACON — The GHSA did it again.
Last year, Albany High’s boys basketball team had to find new jerseys in an Elite 8 game in Savannah, and the Randolph-Clay girls basketball team had the same problem Thursday afternoon when it arrived in Macon to play Gordon Lee in the Class A state title game.
The Lady Red Devils, who were the No. 1-ranked team in Class A all season, lost in a stunner, 61-56.
Randolph-Clay, being the top seed, left Cuthbert with white home uniforms to wear in the title game.
But coach Jennifer Acree said she was told R-C would be the visitors in the title game and that the seeding had nothing to do with which team wore the home jerseys. Instead, Gordon Lee would be the home team, because the brackets stated that the team at the bottom of the bracket is home in the title game.
So R-C made a call to former Randolph-Clay girls coach James Bland, who is now retired. Bland lives near Jones County High School and has connections there. He made arrangements to get Jones County’s purple and gold uniforms to the Macon Metroplex, where the state title games are being held this weekend.
Randolph-Clay, which usually dons black and red, looked like the Los Angeles Lakers, and although no one blamed the loss in the state title game to the awkward jersey situation, it might have played a factor. Randolph-Clay got off to a slow start and trailed the entire game.
“We’re cool with it,’’ Acree said before the game. “They told us the home team was based on the bracket and not the seeding. We are just going to play the game.’’
MACON — It came too late, the run, the drive and the final push of a season full of dreams and promises.
That’s how Randolph-Clay’s remarkable quest for a state title ended — with the Lady Red Devils storming back and falling just short in a 61-56 loss to Gordon Lee in the Class A state title game at the Macon Metroplex on Thursday.
“We’re three baskets from winning a state title,’’ said Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree, who saw her team fall behind by 20 points before her kids staged a dramatic comeback. “If we could take two minutes out of the first quarter and play them like we did in the fourth quarter, we would have won. We would have been the state champs.’’
The Lady Red Devils started the fourth quarter trailing, 50-30, but then scored 26 points in eight minutes as senior Kanekia Washington dropped in 11 of her game-high 26 points in the fourth. Washington, a three-year starter who has scored more than 1,300 points at Randolph-Clay, tried to lift her team in the end and scored 19 points in the second half. She was inspiring in her final game as a Lady Red Devil.
But it wasn’t enough.
“We let them get out to too big of a lead in the first half,” said Washington, her voice coated in tears. “We should have started faster. We knew we could come back, but then we made too many mistakes. Our defense wasn’t good in certain spots in the game. We didn’t play defense the way we usually do.’’
They also weren’t wearing their usual Randolph-Clay jerseys after a miscommunication between the school and the GHSA about which team would be the home team — Gordon Lee was apparently considered home, even though R-C was the higher seed and ranked No. 1 in the state — left the Lady Red Devils scrambling to find approved uniforms before game time. They ended up using nearby Jones County’s purple and gold jerseys, rather than wearing their traditional black and red.
Down by 20, R-C opened the fourth with a 9-0 run, forcing four turnovers in the first two minutes. Kobi Thornton scored twice and Washington hit an outside shot to start the run. Adriana Blackmon hit a pair of free throws, and after Kaitelyn Lee, a 6-4 junior who has already committed to Samford, hit an inside shot, Washington answered and Thornton made a steal that led to a fast-break basket by Crystal Ricks, who closed to gap to 52-43 with 4:09 left.
Kassidy Blevins, who led the Lady Trojans with 21 points, hit a floater (she made several running shots all afternoon) and Kaitelyn Lee made a huge play on a rebound under the Gordon Lee basket. Lee and Ricks both grabbed the rebound, but instead of a jump ball being called, the two stayed tied up until Lee ripped the ball from Ricks and dropped in a bucket for a 56-43 lead with 3:00 left.
R-C just kept coming, however.
It cut the lead to 59-54 when Washington hit Randolph’s only 3-pointer of the game with 13 seconds left. The Lady Red Devils, who were one of the best shooting 3-point teams in Southwest Georgia, had trouble shooting all day — while Gordon Lee was hot from the onset.
It was a nightmare start for Randolph-Clay, which had been the No. 1-ranked team in the state rankings from Day 1 of the season. Gordon Lee had been No. 2 before dropping to No. 6 after a loss in the region tournament.
The Lady Trojans also barely beat Seminole County — which lost to R-C twice — at home in the Elite 8 round of the playoffs, but they saved their best game for Macon and shot the lights out early in the game, then hung on to capture the title.
The first half was about as bad as it could be for Randolph-Clay, which watched Gordon Lee burn the nets down early. The Lady Trojans (25-7) shot 55 percent in the first half, making 16 of 29 shots.
After that? They made only 10 more for the entire game.
“We knew if we were going to win we would have to shoot the ball well,’’ Gordon Lee coach Lester Galyon said. “And we did.’’
Gordon Lee opened the game by hitting its first four shots to grab an 8-3 lead, and after R-C closed to 12-8, Lee finished the quarter with a
5-0 run in the final 13 seconds to lead 17-8. The Lady Trojans made 8 of 10 shots in the second quarter, shooting an almost unheard of 80 percent. They went to halftime leading, 36-19.
Blevins scored 10 and Katie Barger scored 15 points in the first half as Gordon Lee’s guards hit open shot after open shot.
“I chewed them out at halftime,’’ Acree said. “I was not happy with their effort. It makes no sense to come this far and not give effort.
“We just didn’t come out playing from the beginning. We knew (Blevins) and (Barger) were good shooters. Sometimes we left them alone and we gave them too many open shots. We gave them too many easy baskets. When you are playing in this game, you can’t give up easy baskets.’’
Barger didn’t score in the second half, and it looked like R-C might make a run in the third to take over the game. The Lady Red Devils (29-3) had won 29 of their last 30 and stopped Gordon Lee cold to start the second half. Lee missed its first nine shots after halftime, but R-C closed to only 11 and was down, 36-25, when Washington hit an outside shot with 3:55 left. But then Gordon Lee caught on fire again. Blevins hit a wild floater to start a 14-5 run as the Lady Trojans made seven of their final 10 shots in the third, including a drive by Blevins with 15 seconds left and a outside shot by Abby Bohannon at the buzzer to lift Gordon Lee to a 50-30 lead.
Then Randolph-Clay simply ran out of time.
Washington not only led everyone with 26 points, but she handed out eight assists and grabbed five rebounds from her guard spot.
“Kanekia had a great game,’’ Acree said. “She showed why she is one of the best guards in the state. I’m real proud of her, and I’m real proud of all of them.’’
But the Lady Red Devils as a group had their worst night of the season, shooting just 30 percent (23 of 66).
Thornton, a freshman who watched her coach lose in the 2010 Final Four and promised the team would win it all in her first season on varsity, did her part and had a monster game. She scored 13 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked six shots. Blackmon finished with 13 points, but usual scoring threat Brianna Thornton didn’t score, and Whenekia Washington, who is arguably the best 3-point shooter in Southwest Georgia, didn’t hit a shot from beyond the arc and finished with two points.
They all left in tears.
“Even though we didn’t get what we wanted we had a great year to get this far,’’ Kanekia said.
The Washington twins leave after both starting for three years. They combined for more than 2,300 points at R-C, and Blackmon, a four-year starter, ended her career with more than 1,300 points. Ricks and Jasmine Wilson are the only other seniors. Both Thornton sisters — Kobi, who is 6-foot-1, and 6-foot Brianna, a sophomore — will return to anchor next year’s team.
“We are very upset about the loss,’’ Acree said. “We didn‘t come here to get the second-place trophy. But we can’t hang our heads. We had a fantastic season. We just didn’t win the one we wanted to win.”