The John Milledge Academy girls basketball team seemed poised to win the program’s second region championship in three seasons Friday, but that’s not how things played out.
The Lady Trojans (22-4) were perfect in Region 4-AAA play throughout the regular season, including nine- and 13-point wins over region championship game opponent Westfield. The Lady Hornets of Perry got the last laugh though with a strong defensive effort that earned them tournament champion status via 45-39 victory.
JMA girls head coach Tasha Gainous said afterwards that Westfield came out in a different defensive look than the teams’ last two meetings.
“They played us man-to-man the whole game, and we kind of folded,” said Gainous. “They were pressuring us a lot more than they had, and we stopped running our offense as well as other little things… I know it’s cliché to say, but it just wasn’t our game tonight.”
The game was close throughout with neither team getting ahead by more than five until the final quarter. The Lady Trojans enjoyed a 13-12 lead after the first quarter, but took a hit when senior guard Olivia Rhodes got into foul trouble. She already had five points by the time she was pulled with two fouls with 3:30 left in the opening period. Rhodes returned in the second quarter, but was whistled for a third time, forcing the head coach to remove her from the game again. The senior would return to the floor later, but never really got back into the scoring form she was in early.
“That hurt because it just got her completely out of sync with the game,” Gainous said.
Other JMA starters were piling on the fouls as well, splitting up the team’s best lineup for extended amounts of time.
Despite all of that, the game was tied 18-18 with 2:30 on the second quarter clock. A Westfield three-pointer though gave the Lady Hornets the lead they would never relinquish from that point onward. They held the advantage all the way through the final buzzer, staving off a JMA comeback attempt in the final minutes.
Coach Gainous fully expects future opponents to watch the Westfield game film and employ similar defensive strategies.
“We’ll work at it and get better at it,” the head coach said.
Freshman point guard Maggie Prestwood turned in a good scoring performance with her 14 points while senior Cadence Bandows had 10. Westfield senior Emma Williams led all scorers with 17.
The Lady Trojans enter the GISA AAA state playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the 16-team tournament. The JMA girls host No. 14 Pinewood Christian Academy to open the postseason Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.