The girls of Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School took Tuesday night’s scrimmage seriously. The athletes treated the match as a closely contested basketball game, especially in the first half. But in the third quarter, the Lady Tigers took control, defeating the Lady Panthers 54-39 at LCHS.
Both squads warmed up in the first quarter when turnovers and missed layups kept the scoring low. With 3:53 left it was tied at 3 before the Lady Tigers hit a few layups to close the quarter up 12-5.
Three of the Lady Tigers’ starters got in early foul trouble in the second quarter, forcing them to sit the bench. They brought in the reserves while Lady Panther Courtney Rhodes came off the bench and hit the boards, letting Liberty tie the game at 18.
But Liberty didn’t count on a new Lady Tiger freshman Shaquoia Crockett.
Crockett was the main ball handler throughout the scrimmage, allowing former ball handler senior Mariah Maternik to transition to shooting guard.
Anyone who has followed Lady Tiger coach Faye Baker’s team for the past three seasons knows Maternik has been the one to watch and defend. It was Maternik who passed the ball to the inside or who drove the ball down court. She either passed it for the layup or hit the shot herself — almost always flawlessly.
But on Tuesday, a fresh face ran the ball.
"I was very pleased with Shaquoia’s poise," Baker said.
Crockett, known to her teammates as Coco, scored in the double-digits in her first outing as a Lady Tiger, hitting 13 for the night and giving the Lady Tigers a 24-22 lead at the half.
"I was very surprised and I think she is the key to that team," Lady Panther coach Carolyn Kelly said after the game. "She made a lot of difference and she made things happen. She came out playing like a junior or senior. The kid had no fear and did whatever she wanted to do with the basketball."
Maternik still gleamed as the team’s senior leader, doing what she does best besides man the ball — shooting. She also ended in the double-digits, hitting 17 for the night.
"It’s a blessing that we are able to have two ball handlers this year," Baker said. "Mariah doesn’t have to worry about bringing the ball up the court as much so it’s going to free her up a lot. Coco does great things with the ball as it showed tonight and that makes us more of an offensive threat."
She added that the strong play from Crockett and her secondary unit gave Baker and assistant coach Dana King confidence that they have much more depth on the bench this year.
She said her third-quarter strategy also ignited the game.
"I also thought, in the third quarter, that our press was effective," she said. "I thought that was what really allowed us to extend that lead. We were able to get some steals and some easy baskets and that helped in getting us going."
In the third quarter, the Lady Tigers scored 19 to Liberty’s 10. Lady Tiger KeAndra Frasier and Lady Panther Jasmina Smith exchanged trey shots, but the rest of the Panther squad was forced to try and get points from the line.
"We seemed to have trouble with her (Crockett) on our press and we had to come back off of that because she could handle the ball so well," Kelly said, adding that her team didn’t give their best effort in the scrimmage. "We weren’t able to make a stop on that. We came back with the half court and she went to a man (defense) and she still seemed to break our man apart. I think the biggest thing is they just out hustled us. They came ready to play and we didn’t."
But the Liberty girls did a much better job of getting the rebounds and grabbing second shots.
"I think we did really well on the board as far as rebounding, but when it actually came down to scoring and running the plays like they should be run I think Faye did an excellent job and we didn’t," Kelly said.
Baker needs her Tiger girls to work on moving their feet to improve their defense and said, "We definitely have to work on boxing out and rebounding."
Lady Tigers: 12|24|43|54
Free throws: 5 of 19
Top scorers: Mariah Maternik 13, Shaquoia Crockett 13, Quintunya Chapman 9, Symone May 6
Three-point shots: KeAndra Frasier 1
Lady Panthers: 5|22|32|39
Free throws: 12 of 34
Top scorers: Courtney Rhodes 12, Diamone Johnson 11, Tiara Howard 9, Jasmina Smith 6
Three-point shots: Jasmina Smith 1