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Randolph-Clay girls back in state finals

Randolph-Clay’s Brandi Buie (5) is defended by several Claxton defenders Saturday in the Class A public school state semifinals at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

Randolph-Clay’s Brandi Buie (5) is defended by several Claxton defenders Saturday in the Class A public school state semifinals at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Randolph-Clay’s Shaaliyah Lewis (30) goes up for a basket as Claxton’s Kashara Moody (12) defends Saturday in the Class A public state semifinals Saturday at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Randolph-Clay’s Shanice Jackson (11) dribbles upcourt Saturday in the Class A public state semifinals at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Randolph-Clay’s Brandi Buie (5) is fouled by Claxton’s Nyeisha Kirkland (52) Saturday in the Class A public school state semifinals at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Randolph-Clay’s Brandi Buie (5) and Claxton’s Taylor Fiveash (41) battle for a rebound Saturday in the Class A public school state semifinals at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Randolph-Clay’s Kobi Thornton (44), Shanice Jackson (11), Brandi Buie (5) and Kaderia Parham (10) celebrate after beating Claxton in the Class A public school semifinals Saturday at Savannah State University. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

SAVANNAH — There was a different feeling Kaderia Parham had before her Randolph-Clay teammates took the floor Saturday in the Class A public school semifinals at Savannah State’s Tiger Area.

There were very few butterflies in her stomach.

She and most of the team weren’t nervous.

And they smiled and laughed a lot.

That laid-back approach sent top-seeded Randolph-Clay back to the state finals following a 45-30 victory over Claxton.

“We practiced hard on Friday,” Parham said. “You practice like you play, and we had a good practice here yesterday.”

The victory assures Randolph-Clay of another appearance in the state finals. They are anxious for a return, especially after a frustrating end to last season, one in which a mixup led to the team having to wear another team’s jerseys followed by a stinging loss.

The Lady Red Devils jumped all over Claxton in the first few minutes, building a 12-0 advantage. Most of that was behind 6-foot-2 post player Kobi Thornton, who dominated inside and overwhelmed the Lady Tigers inside the paint.

Then standout Brandi Buie took over in the second half, penetrating the lane with driving layups to help the Lady Red Devils maintain control.

With the exception of a Claxton run midway through the third quarter that trimmed the deficit to seven, Randolph-Clay wasn’t seriously challenged.

Instead of hugging and dancing at the end the end of the game, the Lady Red Devils’ celebration seemed a little subdued.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Randolph-Clay girls coach Jennifer Acree, whose team was one of the preseason favorites to be back in the title game.

“Our goal was to get back to the state championship game and bring the trophy home. We’re not taking anything lightly. We’re enjoying the process, but we’ve got one more game.”

Randolph-Clay (26-4) won its eighth straight behind Thornton’s 20 points, with Buie adding 17.

While the Lady Red Devils played like they had been in a big arena before, Claxton seemed jittery at the start and dug themselves in too deep of a hole. They had trouble shooting around Thornton, who swatted away several of their attempts.

Thornton shut down the Lady Tigers (25-6) and made their inside game almost non-existent. They had some success on the perimeter, but by then Randolph-Clay was firmly in control.

“We knew from watching tape and talking to coaches who had played Claxton that they were going to be overwhelmed,” Acree said. “You don’t see a player like Kobi Thornton in Class A very much.”

The Lady Red Devils move into the state finals, where they will play at 3 p.m. on Thursday. They will be seeking their first state championship since 2000 when they competed in Class AA.

Guard Shanice Jackson said as her team continues to improve, she isn’t concerned about the opponent.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” she said. “We’re going to be ready.”