Lady Tigers drop first game
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
TYRONE – They fought to the end and had a chance to keep their unbeaten season alive, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Despite a memorable performance by senior Amber Gilbert, who made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter after returning from a knee injury, the Troup Lady Tigers fell to Sandy Creek 56-49 on Saturday night in the championship game of the Region 5-AAAA tournament.
It was the first loss of the season for Troup (23-1), which will host a game on Friday in the first round of the state tournament.
Trailing by as many as eight points late in the game, Troup got as close as one point in the final minute, but Sandy Creek finished the game on a 7-1 run to capture its fourth consecutive region title.
“We never did get defeated because of how the game was being played,” said Troup head coach Carla Thornton. “We’re used to adversity. Every time something got thrown our way that was unexpected, we found a way to fight through it and get back in the game. That happened multiple times. We’d get down, and find a way to get back in the game.”
Gilbert delivered an inspiring fourth-quarter performance after it looked like her night, and possibly her season, was done.
In the third quarter, Gilbert went down hard after getting fouled, and she had to be carried off the court with tears in her eyes.
About 10 minutes later, though, Gilbert walked out of the locker room and re-joined her teammates on the floor. In a remarkable stretch, Gilbert hit four 3-pointers in less than three minutes to keep Troup within shouting distance.
Gilbert’s first 3-pointer in the fourth quarter came with a little more than four minutes to play, and it cut Sandy Creek’s lead to 39-35.
After Sandy Creek went back up by six, Gilbert knocked down another 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining, and Troup was within three.
Sandy Creek then went on a 5-0 run before Gilbert made another 3-pointer with 58 seconds left, and Sandy Creek’s lead was 48-43.
Following a Sandy Creek free throw, Gilbert drained yet another 3-pointer, and Troup was down by three points with 39 seconds left.
Moments later, Aniya Palmer stole the ball and made a layup, and just like that what had been an eight-point deficit less than a minute before was down to one.
Unfortunately for the Lady Tigers, the comeback stalled from there.
Troup’s only points in the final seconds came on a Gilbert free throw, and Sandy Creek salted the game by making seven free throws in the game’s closing moments.
While it was ultimately a losing night for Troup, it was a memorable effort for Gilbert, who finished with 20 points.
“It’s just her will to win, and wanting to be there for her teammates in a moment like that,” Thornton said. “For her to step up and hit those shots at the end, that was huge.”
Palmer added 15 points for Troup, including six points during the fourth quarter.
Jania Hodges led Sandy Creek with 22 points, and she was 13-of-18 from the free throw line.