First, the Cass girls basketball team broke a decade-long streak of futility. Then, they picked up one of the biggest wins in program history over a top-10 team.
That was a lot of work for one week, but the Lady Colonels aren’t done.
Cass, the No. 2 seed out of Region 7-AAAAA, will host Columbia today at 7 p.m. in the first round of the state tournament. The Lady Eagles are the No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAAAA.
“Anytime you have a 2-3 matchup in the state tournament, you know it should be a close game,” Cass coach Burt Jackson said. “All indications are we’re going to have a very high turnout, everybody is saying they’re coming to the game. I think our girls will definintely play with a lot of energy, I don’t think they’ll be tight.”
The Lady Colonels made the state tournament for the first time since 2006 last week by beating Hiram in the region tournament. That was expected.
What wasn’t was their next game, a 74-69 overtime victory in the region semifinals over Villa Rica, which had beaten Cass twice by double-digit margins and had been ranked in the top-10 in the state throughout the year.
“Some girls were so happy that they were crying with joy in the locker room, literally crying [after the Villa Rica game],” Jackson said. “So they wanted to beat Villa Rica really bad.”
That gave the Lady Colonels a spot in the region championship and a home game in the state playoffs, even after they lost the region championship to No. 3 Carrollton.
Jackson compared Columbia, their first-round opponent, to region rival Rome, which Cass beat twice, by 22 and four points, in the regular season.
“They play man-to-man, but I feel like our region has really prepared us to play Columbia,” Jackson said. “They’re not as good as Villa Rica or Carrollton but they’re right there with Kell and Rome, so we’re going to have to be ready to play, but I also feel like if we are ready to play we definitely can compete and do well.”
The Lady Colonels, as they have all season, will rely on the scoring and playmaking of first-team all-region guard Jana Morning. Morning went over 1,000 career points late in the regular season and scored 29 points in the big win over Villa Rica.
She’s backed by Kyla Michienzi (17 points against Villa Rica) and a resurgent Esmeralda Thomas, who went off for 20 against Villa Rica to cap a string of great performances late in the season.
“In the second half of the season, she had a 16-point game against Armuchee at Armuchee, she had a 21-point game at Rome, she had a 20-point game at Villa Rica in the semifinals,” Jackson said of Thomas. “She’s played more and more consistent, and I know she takes a lot of pressure off Jana because a lot of times we can ask Esmeralda to be the lead guard and let Jana have a couple of minutes to just play and not have to worry about bringing the ball up every time.”
The Lady Colonels may not have experienced the state tournament in a while, but Jackson said they’re prepared.
“It’s a different mindset, you realize that there are so many teams that are not playing and you still are,” Jackson said. “You realize it’s a one-and-done, there’s no consolation. You win and you move on, or if you lose you’re done.”