“I am so proud of these girls,” said LSHS coach David Mills. “We competed four four quarters and the kids never quit.”
“We far exceeded what we really had expected before the season,” Mills added. “I am so proud of these seniors and the legacy they have left to the younger kids.”
The Lady Lions (20-9) got off to an extremely shaky start. They were doing enough on the defensive side with their 2-3 zone, but their offense reflected an early season game rather than a critical postseason one. Their passes were sloppy, with several of them soaring over the recipient's hands and out of bounds. Stephenson (25-5) took advantage, scoring the first nine points of the game.
After a couple timeouts the Lady Lions finally got it together, and methodically clawed back. Lithia guard Joi Few simply made things happen, forcing several steals, holding on to rebounds, and hitting vital jump shots. As the first quarter came to a close, Lithia had made it a ball game, trailing 17-12.
The Lady Lions brought fluidity to their offense throughout the second quarter. Thanks to several forced turnovers, Lithia was able to get down the court in a hurry and run effective plays. The three pointers also finally began to drop through the net, with point guard Tobreshia Horn hitting two in a row. The Lady Lions were rewarded for their consistent play, finally taking the lead 25-24, thanks to a three pointer from Tashara Jones with 50 seconds left before halftime. Stephenson added one more field goal and Lithia Springs hit one foul shot prior to the break to bring the game to a draw at 26 a piece heading into the locker rooms.
The Lady Lions came out a little flat to begin the second half, and the Lady Jaguars developed a small lead. However, Tashara Jones began to heat up, hitting two threes in the quarter, even with tight defending. It did appear that Lithia had settled in for the long haul, successfully breaking the full court press on most possessions. When the clock hit two minutes, Stephenson took advantage of the absence of a shot clock that the college and professional level have in place, running out the entire remainder of the third quarter. As the game entered its final quarter, Lithia trailed by four, with the score at 42-38.
The tempo was at an all time high in the fourth quarter as both sides acknowledged the fact that one team would end its season that night. Tashara Jones did what most star players do: take over the game when it mattered most, the final minutes in a postseason game. Jones brought her best in the quarter, scoring 13 points.
“She did what big time players do in crunch time,” Mills said. “She stepped up and led us as far as she could.”
However, the result of a game usually comes down to which team executes better in the final minutes, and it was Stephenson who seized the moment. The Lady Jaguars hit most of their foul shots, while Lithia Springs turned the ball over several times and missed several shots at point-blank range. Jones led all scoring in the loss with 28, while Stephenson forward Kaliyah Mitchell led their scoring with 21.
This was Lithia’s best season since 2002-2003 when the Lady Lions reached the Elite-8.