COCHRAN, Ga. --- Briarwood Academy's girls basketball team staged a tenacious comeback Friday but fell to the Warriors of LaGrange in the quarterfinals of the GISA Class AA State Basketball Tournament.
The Lady Buccaneers ended their 20-8 season in a 50-40 decision at Morris Gymnasium at Middle Georgia College.
"They came out defensively and did some things we weren't expecting, and it just kind of rattled us," said Briarwood coach Clayton Parish. As Briarwood's 50-plus traveling fans prepared for the ride home, coach Parish told The McDuffie Mirror about the triangle and two mixed zone and one-on-one defenses that he said forced some low-percentage shots in the early minutes of the game.
"We tried some shots we shouldn't have," he said.
"I give them a lot of credit. They played very well," Parish said.
The Lady Buccaneers fell behind 18-12 after one quarter and struggled to a 23-14 halftime deficit.
"We came back in the third quarter and got the game close," he said. Only six points separated the teams at one point, before the gap widened again. That quarter ended with a last-instant LaGrange layup that raised the margin to 38-29.
LaGrange used delay tactics as early as 4:30 of the first quarter while holding a 14-5 lead. That strategy continued throughout the game. With less than two minutes left on the clock, the Warriors held the ball at midcourt to protect a 10-point lead.
That pattern provided some exciting moments as Buccaneers defenders met their adversaries at midcourt. Senior Emily Henderson stole the ball once and drove wide left before sliding in for a layup.
The need to attack the delay left Briarwood open to some LaGrange attacks, too, when sharp passes penetrated the stretched defense.
Henderson led Briarwood scoring with 13 points. Freshman Tiffany Pate added 12 points, and junior Rachel Coxwell added seven. Senior Maria-Celeste Johnson and sophomore Shannon Newsome each had four points.
LaGrange's Marina Wilkerson led all scorers with 16 points. Khadija Neely added 13, and Molly Child had eight.
Free throws more than accounted for the disparity in score. LaGrange sank 14 free throws while Briarwood sank two.
Briarwood's four senior captains told The Mirror their impressions of the game.
"We hit more shots than they did. We just couldn't put four quarters together," Maggie Keene said.
"We got behind but we made it up," Morgan Reese said.
"We took better shots but just couldn't finish," Johnson said.
"We played aggressively. We always do," Henderson said after her final high school game.
Coach Parish wrapped up the 15th season of a Briarwood career that has included three state championship appearances.
"It wasn't one of our most successful seasons," he said. "But it was one of my enjoyable seasons.
"They were just a joy to work with this year. They are very hard-working."
The 223-mile round trip to Cochran was the team's second in just three days, after a Wednesday victory over Frederica Academy, 44-29.
Asked where the team planned to go after Friday's finale, senior Keene said, "Home to sleep."