With a victory Tuesday night in the consolation round of the Region 8-A-Private girls basketball tournament, Prince Avenue Christian School earned a 3-seed for the upcoming state playoffs.
The Lady Wolverines beat George Walton Academy 45-36 to secure the win and avoid entering the playoffs as a 4-seed, the lowest possible ranking for a playoff team.
The gritty win on Tuesday followed a heartbreaking loss last Friday. The Lady Wolverines took on archrival Athens Academy, which hosted the tournament, and fell 41-36 in a game during which they held the lead most of the time.
They knew they could not dwell on the loss if they wanted to beat GWA, though.
“You can't just keep holding onto the game and being down about it,” said junior Noelle Hynes. “We lost. We were sad about it but after that night and the next day, you've just got to get over it and play the next game like it's nothing.”
Prince Avenue’s players were ready to move on, but they found strong resistance from GWA.
The Lady Bulldogs took an early lead and led 10-9 through the first quarter. A lot of missed shots by the Lady Wolverines allowed GWA to pull ahead 20-12 in the second quarter.
By halftime, Prince Avenue was down 24-19.
The teams matched each other throughout the third period as neither squad gained a considerable lead. But after tying the game at 30 with 2:19 left in the quarter, the Lady Wolverines used shots by Hynes and Karlee Armstron to take a 35-32 edge into the fourth quarter.
“I was a little concerned about [Tuesday] because I felt like we used a lot of emotion in the semifinal,” said Prince Avenue head coach Richard Ricketts. “We started off really flat. Honestly, I thought George Walton came out and played really hard. That was the best I've seen them play. ... In the second half, we just made two adjustments and that was it. But we picked up our intensity and that was the adjustment that really changed things.”
Prince Avenue shot the ball at a higher percentage during third quarter, but Ricketts, Hynes and Armstrong all agreed that the Lady Wolverines’ shift in defense paved the way to victory.
They employed full-court pressure, something they do not normally use at a high rate. Armstrong clamped down on GWA players making inbound passes and the rest of the Lady Wolverines stuck to the Lady Bulldogs they were charged with defending.
That pressure created turnovers, which opened easier fast break opportunities on offense.
“I don't think they expected our defense going full-court in the second half,” Armstrong said. “That really helped.”
Prince Avenue’s tenacious style in the second half was bred by their feelings exiting the previous loss to Athens Academy.
“We were all kind of irritated about the loss Friday night, which pumped us up for this game and got us going,” Armstrong said. “We started off slow but, when came out in the second half we really moved the ball well and got steals.”
The Lady Wolverines continued the effort in the fourth quarter. Though they never ran away with the game, partly by design after slowing down on offense once they built a cushion, their offense hummed along much easier than in the first half.
Ricketts said he moved Hynes from her normal spot underneath the goal to further outside, which created more open lanes as GWA reacted to the change-up.
“Noelle had a really good game against Academy, so they were really just doubling and tripling her and it was just clogging the middle,” Ricketts said. “Noelle can shoot, so we decided to spread our offense out and not post her up. I think it confused [GWA] a little bit in the second half and it gave people like Karlee a chance to get to the basket. Karlee even posted up a time or two and got a few offensive rebounds.”
Prince Avenue’s first-round playoff game will be next Tuesday or Wednesday at the winner of Region 5-A-Private. That matchup had not been finalized as of press time.
Ricketts said he expects more tough performances out of his players no matter their next opponent.
“You push so hard with this region stuff then you just hope the matchups are decent because there are so many ridiculously good teams,” Ricketts said. “So, we'll see who we play and we'll give our best effort and see what happens.”