Cass girls lose for 1st time in region title game

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 2/19/21

Due to COVID-19, several Georgia high school basketball regions didn’t hold tournaments this season. Cass is probably wishing Region 7-AAAAA had followed suit. After the No. 1 seed boys team …

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Cass girls lose for 1st time in region title game

Posted

Due to COVID-19, several Georgia high school basketball regions didn’t hold tournaments this season.

Cass is probably wishing Region 7-AAAAA had followed suit. After the No. 1 seed boys team lost in the region semifinals, the top-seeded girls saw their chance at an undefeated season end with a 55-50 loss to Hiram in the championship game Friday at The Storm Center.

“We still can achieve the ultimate goal of winning a state championship,” Colonels head coach Burt Jackson said. “We’re a good enough team if we just clean up a few things.

“All we have to do is win five in a row.”

Given that Cass started the year with 24 straight victories, needing to come out on top just five more times doesn’t seem like too tall of a task. Then again, the Colonels’ path through the Class 5A state playoffs just became way tougher.

Cass, which entered the week ranked No. 2 in the classification, will open with a home game against Region 6-AAAAA’s third seed, Grady, at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Assuming seeds hold up, the Colonels would travel to No. 5 Southwest DeKalb for the second round. If Cass won that game, a trip to top-ranked Woodward Academy would likely follow in the quarterfinals.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to question myself,” Jackson said of the loss to Hiram. “We tell the girls, ‘You have to hold yourself accountable.’ So do coaches. There are a couple of things I wish I would have done. …

“I should have made a defensive adjustment sooner than I did. We went man in the fourth. I probably should have gone man earlier in the third quarter. They weren’t ready for that.”

Jackson’s switch to man-to-man defense from the 2-3 zone that had helped the Colonels win three straight meetings with the Hornets, dating back to last season, helped fuel a rally.

Trailing 45-34 entering the final period, Cass rattled off seven straight points to gain the momentum. However, the Colonels missed a critical layup that would have trimmed the deficit to one possession.

Instead, Hiram (17-4) responded with four straight points, and the Hornets’ lead didn’t dip below six until Claire Davis hit her fifth 3-pointer of the night at the buzzer. Afterwards an emotional Davis, who paced the Colonels with 19 points, dropped to the floor and had to be helped up by teammate Haley Johnson.

“We were a layup away from it being 45-43, because we made the adjustment to go to man in the fourth,” Jackson said. “I should have done that sooner.”

While Jackson vehemently blamed himself for the loss, he did admit that his team missed some key free throws (2-for-6 in the second half), couldn’t convert a few big layups and also turned the ball over too much.

“We never quit; we never gave up,” Jackson said. “Our heart was in it.”

Cass, which also received 18 points from Londaisha Smith, led 16-15 after one period before No. 9-ranked Hiram rallied to take a 31-27 lead into halftime. The third quarter, which the Colonels have typically dominated in close games all season, featured a game-changing 12-1 run by the Hornets, who lost the first two meetings this year by a combined 11 points.

It ended Cass’ dream of a 30-0 season.

Should the Colonels finish 29-1, they likely won’t be complaining too much about playing in the region tournament. If they come up short of the state championship, particularly with a loss to either Southwest DeKalb or Woodward, it could be a sore spot.

At this point, Jackson isn’t worried about any of that. He’s not concerned about possible road trips to face top-five teams in the second and third rounds.

All Jackson cares about is the opening game, because unlike Friday’s defeat, any loss from here on out would be a season-ending one.

“The good news is that our goals are not over,” he said. “This is obviously a setback and the girls are disappointed. We never talked about our record, but the girls knew. They wanted to win every game.

“But the good news is that this isn’t over. It will start in the first round Tuesday against Grady, and we’ll go from there.”