February 25, 2009
JACKSON -- Cloyd Garth couldn''t believe what he was seeing.
The Aberdeen High School girls basketball coach has grown accustomed to watching his team create havoc and play with boundless energy.
The team he saw Tuesday night forced him to stop and stare.
Whether it was with hi hands on his hips and his head cocked slightly to the side or with his arms folded in front of his chest, Garth watched the Lady Bulldogs imitate the team he had seen win so many games this season.
Dayana McGee helped make sure Garth''s final pose was one of relief.
McGee made a layup with 2 minutes, 12 seconds remaining to give Aberdeen the lead for good and it held on for a 56-53 victory against South Pike in the Class 3A Mississippi High School Activities Association Cellular South State Basketball Championships at Mississippi Coliseum.
The victory was the first for the Lady Bulldogs (28-7) at the state tournament and sets up a matchup against Raymond at 8 p.m. Monday. Raymond has eliminated Aberdeen from the tournament the past two seasons.
Garth admitted his team might have been looking ahead to that game. But he still was left at a loss to explain his team''s lack of energy, porous defense, and poor free throw shooting.
"It was weird and very disappointing because I know the capacity these kids have and we were not playing anywhere near Lady Bulldogs'' basketball," Garth said.
For those who have not had the pleasure of seeing Aberdeen at its best, the Lady Bulldogs use a high-energy, full-court defensive approach to force turnovers and to create easy offense.
It''s customary for Aberdeen to cause 30 or 40 turnovers against teams, and the result usually is a high-scoring game that leads to a victory.
Aberdeen was stuck in neutral nearly the entire game..
Garth said he could sense his team''s lack of energy from the beginning.
"It was frightening," said Garth, who ditched his jacket and removed his tie in attempt to motivate his players. "I told the kids in the dressing room after the game that I have never seen this group of kids play with this low energy. This is the worst I have seen them play all year, and I told them you''re picking the wrong time to play (like that).
"The girls are highly disappointed in themselves. They understand we didn''t play and that we were lucky to get out of here with a win. I think the next time you will see them play they will be the energized Bulldogs."
Hoskins'' spark on the offensive end gave the Lady Bulldogs just enough to pull it out. The junior guard/forward attacked the basket from every angle to score a game-high 28 points.
"We just talked on the court," Hoskins said. "My teammates will always encourage me and say to me, ''C''mon ''Meika, it is your time,'' and I encourage others. We had a bad night at the free throw line."
Hoskins was 4 of 9 from the free throw line as Aberdeen was 14 of 34 (41 percent). Garth said the Lady Bulldogs have struggled with their free throws all season, but he never imagined things could get that bad.
Aberdeen made 4 of 10 free throws in the final 1:30 to keep South Pike in contention. Raven Ashley hit 1 of 2 free throws for the Lady Eagles (who were 8 of 20 from the free-throw line) to cut the deficit to 55-53 with 15.7 seconds to play.
Regina Barker made one free throw with 12.2 seconds remaining to extend the lead to three, but KeeDarrylon Gallagher''s 3-pointer was short to help the Lady Bulldogs advance.
McGee''s basket that gave Aberdeen the lead also came on a drive off a pass from Sheraine Davis (two points, seven rebounds). But plays like that came only in flashes. The Lady Bulldogs were careless with the basketball (28 turnovers) and played a defense that allowed the Lady Eagles to do whatever they wanted.
South Pike outrebounded Aberdeen 47-34 and had 18 offensive rebounds it converted into 14 second-chance points.
"We''re going to have to play defense, hustle, and move our feet like when we play like we usually play," McGee said. "We just played lazy. We didn''t move our feet enough, we didn''t clamp down on the big girl enough, we didn''t box out a lot. The second-chance shots kept them in the game."
Still, for all of the things Aberdeen didn''t do, it did enough to survive and advance, which is the most important thing this time of the season.
Hoskins said the team will rebound from its performance and will be ready to take on Raymond.
McGee (13 points, seven rebounds, three steals) agreed and said it means a lot for this team to win the program''s first game at the state tournament. She, too, is looking forward to another chance to beat Raymond.
"Now we get to play them again Monday and, hopefully, we can pull it out and get to the championship, which is one of our goals," McGee said.
When it came time for postgame interviews, Garth was back fully dressed. His tie was knotted and his shirt was buttoned to the top. The sharp pains he felt on his side from a recent surgery had subsided and he could reflect about what his team accomplished on what otherwise was an evening to forget.
"We just went to sleep defensively," Garth said. "We have played a lot of teams that are quicker, stronger, and better shooters (than South Pike). From a matchup perspective, this team could not match up with us, but yet we were struggling.
"The girls looked past this team, and that''s what we tried to guard against all week. It was like, ''Whew, thank God we survived,'' The first thing I said to the other coaches is I am mad enough to eat bricks. The good thing about it was if I walked into the dress room and the girls were celebrating (they weren''t), it would have really disappointed me because I know they understood that they didn''t play."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.