Randolph-Clay girls basketball coach Jennifer Acree, center left, and assistant coach Genetta Moore are surrounded by the Lady Red Devils, who came up short in last year’s Class A state championship game but have a chance to redeem themselves today against rival Mitchell County. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
CUTHBERT — It was a tough two-week stretch, one that challenged the Randolph-Clay girls basketball team.
Ultimately, it defined what the Lady Red Devils were made of.
After starting the season with nine victories, the Lady Red Devils lost three games in a two-week stretch in mid-January. Looking back, Randolph-Clay girls coach Jennifer Acree said it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“We had to slow them down and take it one game at a time,” Acree said. “That loss to Early County (on Jan. 11) broke us down. That let us know that if we didn’t come prepared, we could and would get beat. That humbled us back to where we needed to be.”
It’s that tough stretch when the Lady Red Devils lost to Monroe, Early County and Columbus High that propelled them to where they are today. Randolph-Clay has won eight straight and will meet Mitchell County — a team it has beaten three times this season — for the girls Class A public school state championship today at 3 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex.
Acree said her team learned a lot about itself during that stretch — they could play as good as they wanted to, but they could also play badly.
Playing through adverse times, she said, made her team stronger.
“These are a great group of kids,” she said. “You take out the basketball factor, and you have a pair of academic scholar sisters and a bunch of players who learned how to deal with adversity the most. I believe the biggest thing they learned is how to trust in each other and in the Lord.”
Randolph-Clay (26-4) has been anxious for a return to the state championship game, especially after they were upset in the title game by Gordon Lee in Macon last year.
Post player Kobi Thornton was a freshman on that team, and she said the loss motivated her this season.
“We knew teams were going to be out to get us, so we had to step up and do our part,” she said. “That loss made us want to work harder.”
Junior Kaderia Parham said being on the short end of the state championship last year was tough to swallow. She said she doesn’t want to endure another tough defeat.
“We don’t want to be in that predicament again this year,” Parham said.
Brandi Buie, one of the team’s few seniors, hopes her team will guard against complacency, especially since they have beaten Mitchell three times, including a 77-74 overtime victory on Feb. 15 in the Region 1-A championship game
She knows the Lady Eagles will give them their best shot.
Buie said earlier in the season that Randolph-Clay got too comfortable at times and took some opponents for granted, something her team can’t afford to do if they want to win their first girls state title since 2000.
“We were satisfied going into several games (earlier this season),” she said. “We kind of took it like just another game. We’ve got to be ready. I didn’t like the feeling of losing.”
Neither does the rest of the team.