At left, Mitchell County’s Antonia Jones shoots Saturday in the Class A public school semifinals at Savannah State University, where the Lady Eagles beat Greenville to clinch a spot in Thursday’s state championship game. At right, Randolph-Clay’s Brandi Buie and Claxton’s Taylor Fiveash battle for a rebound Saturday in the Class A public school state semifinals at Savannah State University. The Lady Red Devils will try to go 4-for-4 against Mitchell County when the two rivals meet up Thursday in the state championship game. (Staff Photos: Tim Morse)
During the very few quiet moments Mitchell County girls basketball coach Rosemary Sanders has had this week, the thoughts of her team’s three previous meetings with Randolph-Clay have replayed constantly in her mind.
When the two teams meet again on Thursday for the fourth time this season in the Georgia High School Association Class A public school state championship game at the Macon Centreplex, Sanders said she wonders what her team can do differently.
“We’ve got to figure out why we came up short to them by three points in two games and by five in the other,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to do a better job of handling the ball, eliminating turnovers and shooting better free throws.”
Both coaches agree on one thing when the two meet at 3 p.m. — small fundamentals will play a significant role in the outcome.
“I expect the game to be won with the little things only because we played each other so many times over the last couple of years that we are very familiar with each other,” Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree said, who has her team to the finals for the second straight season.
“Free throws, turnovers, rebounding … small things that people don’t always consider. People always want to look at rebounding and points. Since there is so much familiarity between us, I believe small things will play a big role in the outcome.”
One aspect that is somewhat of a sore subject with Sanders is free throw shooting. In her team’s last meeting with Randolph-Clay on Feb. 15 in the Region 1-A championship game, her team converted just one of six from the free throw line in the final minute of regulation.
Those miscues kept them from sealing the victory. Randolph-Clay forced overtime, then won 77-74 to claim the tournament title and, ultimately, the top seed in the Class A public school tournament bracket.
“When we played Turner County in the second round, I remember one of our supporters, Mr. John Harris, saying from the stands that free throws win games,” Sanders said. “Turner fought us and, in the last two minutes of that game, started fouling us because they knew we had problems shooting free throws. We stepped to the line, hit our shots and those free throws helped us win that game.”
Randolph-Clay is not exempt from poor free throw shooting. In that same game with Mitchell a little more than two weeks ago, in the final seconds the Lady Red Devils could have also won in regulation. However, they missed their last of two free throws to send the game into overtime.
Acree said she hasn’t changed her practice routine for the final game. However, extra free throw shooting has become of a part of the drill this week.
“The girls get in whenever they can during the day to shoot free throws,” Acree said. “We can practice all we want, but one thing that people have to understand is that we can’t simulate the atmosphere of the Macon Centreplex.”