Trailing by eight early in the fourth quarter, the first-year Villa Rica High School girls’ basketball coach beamed with pride after watching his team tear off a 17-2 run down the stretch to dispose of visiting Cedar Shoals in a 42-35 victory in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs on Wednesday evening — potentially closing out “The Box” with a bang in the thrilling triumph.
“My emotions and the girls’ emotions are just so high right now. I’m glad for them to finish their senior year off on a winning note here at home. I am so proud of those girls. My seniors have seen their hard work pay off and they are just a true example of how hard work pays off,” Bailey said.
Speaking of the Lady Cats’ seven seniors, they simply weren’t going to let their season end Wednesday night on their home court.
“I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. We came out kind of slow, but we had to pick it up. It was tough. Everybody was kind of down, so we just had to pick it up,” noted VR senior shooting guard Rhianna Warren, who scored a game-high 19 points with three steals.
Warren and fellow senior standout Britney Wright combined to score 13 of the 17 points during the fourth-quarter run, including Wright getting eight of her 15 points in that span.
“We were not ready for it to end. We got down by eight and I was just thinking, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve just got to play our basketball. We’ve got to fight and find a way to win this thing,’” Wright said.
One of the keys down the stretch proved to be free-throw shooting, with the third-seeded Lady Jaguars (25-4) going 0-for-6 from the charity stripe in the final three minutes, while Villa Rica (22-8) sealed the victory with a 5-for-6 clip in the final 25.6 seconds.
Senior Shamaya Evans hit the biggest two, putting her team up 39-35 with 25.6 seconds left on what was a 1-and-1 situation. After Cedar Shoals guard Breeana Taylor missed a shot on the other end, Warren got the rebound and was fouled. She calmly sank both attempts with 15.9 seconds left and then Wright closed the game by hitting 1-of-2 attempts with just a few ticks remaining on the clock.
“Three captains. Those are three captains and they definitely stepped up. I just know that they weren’t ready for their season to end. We’ve spent a lot of time working on free-throw shooting last week in practice and I guess it paid off for us,” said Bailey, whose team shot 11-of-13 from the line for the night compared to a 3-of-12 showing by Cedar Shoals.
The Lady Cats led 10-6 after the opening quarter, but the Lady Jaguars used an 8-0 run to start the second quarter to grab their first lead of the game since it was 2-0 very early. VR battled back by scoring seven of the next nine points to take a 17-16 edge into the break.
There were three lead changes and two ties before Cedar Shoals went on another 8-0 run between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to build the biggest lead of the night for either team at 33-25 early in the final period.
But that’s when the Lady Cats dug deep and found a way to keep their season alive, getting back-to-back treys from Warren and Wright to ignite the rally.
“I wanted them to put four quarters together, and I think we did that. In the third quarter, things kind of got away from us for a little bit. But they gathered themselves and they just had it in them that they said we’re not going to give up like this,” Bailey said.
Warren’s 19-point effort led all scorers, while Wright posted 15 points with 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots. Angericka Colbert posted four points and six boards, while Evans hit the two big free throws late to go along with six rebounds. Taylor led Cedar Shoals with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Villa Rica now hits the road to face top-seeded Southwest DeKalb (20-8) in the sweet 16 on Friday at 6 p.m. in Decatur. The Lady Panthers — who played in the Class AAAA state title game last year — defeated fourth-seeded Sprayberry, 59-56, on Tuesday in their opening-round playoff game.
If the Lady Cats can upset Southwest DeKalb on Friday, they would be rewarded with another home game in the state quarterfinals since fourth-seeded Stephenson knocked off No. 1 Kell on Tuesday and third-seeded Lithia Springs downed No. 2 Clarke Central.
As for Wednesday’s atmosphere, Wright said it is something the team will never forget.
“That means so much to us. To play at home and end it with a victory, that’s just a great feeling. We’re really proud,” Wright said.