Going into Saturday’s game against Beach High, the Lady Tigers knew they had a good shot at the region title, however, no one dared start the celebration early. After all, coach Faye Baker’s team had been in the same position last season — the Bradwell girls were No. 1 when they squared off against the Beach Lady Bulldogs and lost the region game to Ronald Booker’s girls.
The Lady Tigers soundly defeated Beach twice already this season. In fact, the BI girls’ only loss all year was to Rockdale County. Rockdale eked out a 5-point victory. But the Lady Tigers never take anything for granted when it comes to Beach High.
On Saturday night, the Hinesville girls dug deep and held onto a slight lead to win the Region 3-AAAAA trophy, knocking down the Lady Dogs 56-50.
Compared with their last two games against BI, the Lady Bulldogs came out looking like a new team. First, they went on a 4-1 run to establish an early lead. Second, they kept Lady Tiger Seandre Lee out of the game for the first half, holding her to a mere 3 points.
Beach never relented. They kept the game within 2-4 points.With Lee bogged down and Mariah Maternik sitting the bench, Quintunya Chapman and Camille Jackson both hit early foul trouble. Things got sticky, but the squad had a wealth of talent on the bench.
"It was interesting to see how we were going to fare against them," Baker said. "We bent, but we didn’t break."
The coach said her girls had a few too many turnovers in a loud, noisy environment.
"We could have cracked, but we made some key passes when we needed to," she said. "I’m just very proud that they were able to hold on to win."
With the Lady Tigers leading by 2 in the fourth, Lee hit critical free throws making it a two-possession game for the Bulldogs. While some of Baker’s starters sat the bench, others stepped in and stepped up their level of intensity.
"They had to sit a lot," Baker said of Jackson and Chapman’s early foul trouble. "I thought Latisha Frasier came in and did a great job off the bench while they were on the bench. She hustled plays. She is young. She is only in the 10th grade and she is going to be one heck of a player. LaNiqua Fowler came up big tonight. She had a real great game for us and we needed her to step up and play tonight and she did. She pulled us through."
The girls received their region trophy immediately after the game. Lee received her Region 3-AAAAA player of the year trophy. Chapman, Fowler and Jackson received all-region medals and Jackson received a plaque for making the all-region first team. Baker was named coach of the year.
"That tells you that we do have some good athletes in our program," she said. "And that is why we are successful. We have good athletes and they work hard. They believe in what we do."
The girls have their sights set on a state run for class AAAAA.
Maternik resolved some personal issues and returned to the team. She watched from the bench as her teammates beat Beach, but the coach said she will be back in the rotation for state.
"We are moving forward," Baker said. "Of course we could see the difference without her on the floor because when we were a little helter skelter tonight, that is when she is at her best. She comes in and handles pressure well as a floor leader. This is going to make us even better because during the time she was not there, without us having to depend on her, others had to step up. That has raised their game level and with her back, that should just make us better."
Senior center Lee said it felt great to win the region and be named player of the year. She said the success has made her more confident and she has set new goals.
"We are the region champs, but we have the potential to go farther and go as far as we can," she said, adding they will do what it takes to bring home a state ring.
They start their quest at home Saturday when they host Luella at 6 p.m.
Last season, the girls beat Luella by 1 point in a nail-biter at the Sweet 16.
Lady Tigers 14 24 38-56
Lady ’Dogs 10 22 30-50
Top Tiger scorers: Fowler 18, Lee 13