POWDER SPRINGS — McEachern’s girls prevailed Thursday, but they had a tougher time putting Tift County away in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state tournament than the final 81-53 score may have indicated.
Jasmine Carson led the Lady Indians with 22 points. Denim DeShields finished with 17 points and Kemia Ward ended up with 12.
Everything seemed to be working in favor of the four-time defending state champion during most of the first three quarters. McEachern (20-5) hit timely 3-pointers and converted layups off turnovers in building what looked to be a comfortable lead late in the third quarter.
Perhaps the Lady Indians were a bit too complacent.
Not ready to pack it in yet, Tift County (16-13) strung together 13 unanswered points that started late in the third and stretched into the fourth, putting McEachern on its heels. The final wake-up call came when Joslyn Reyes hit her fifth 3-pointer of the second half to cut the lead to 11 points.
“We were relaxing too much,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said. “When you get to this level, you can’t relax.”
When McEachern did stop relaxing, Carson finished a missed shot. Ward finished a missed free throw, drew a foul and completed the three-point play. Then, Jewel Smalls hit a 3 from the right wing to get McEachern’s advantage back to 19 points.
DeShields followed with a free throw before Carson finished a missed shot to increase the Lady Indians’ lead into the 20s.
Smalls sank another 3 pointer later in the fourth quarter, and Ward hit a layup to put the Lady Indians up by 26 points before both teams began subbing players.
“We just had to maintain our composure and do the things that got us here,” Arthur said. “Once we got back to doing what got us here, we were OK.”
The Lady Indians started fast when two 3-pointers by Chanel Wilson spotted them an early 10-4 lead. After Tift County went on a run to cut it to three, McEachern answered with an 11-point run that extended into the second quarter.
McEachern went on to outscore Tift County 21-7 in the second quarter to take a 39-17 halftime lead.
For the quarterfinals, McEachern will travel to Norcross, but it could be without two starters. Ward and Wilson went down with knee injuries in the second half, according to Arthur.
Reyes led Tift County with 19 points, with 18 coming from behind the 3-point line. Nicky Jones was also in double figures with 18.