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Lady Tigers turn the page

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It didn’t take the Troup Lady Tigers long to turn the page.

Troup saw its quest for a perfect season come to a close with a heart-breaking 56-49 loss to Sandy Creek in the Region 5-AAAA championship game.

The good news for the Lady Tigers is that, as disappointing as that loss was, there is more basketball to be played.

Troup will host Chestatee in the first round of the state tournament on Friday, with tip-off set for 5 p.m.

Not long after the Sandy Creek game, Troup head coach Carla Thornton said the players were ready to put the loss behind them and turn their focus to state.

“The girls, they were the main ones that were like coach, can we have a hard practice,” Thornton said. “They said we need to get back to work. They said coach, we need it.”

The hope is that the preparation the players and coaches have put in will result in a strong performance against a Chestatee team that finished third in Region 7-AAAA to earn its state berth.

Thornton’s message to her players is “you’ve worked hard, and you’re still a good team. You’ve lost a game. One game. Best-case scenario, you finish the season with one loss. Worst case, you’re going to have two. That’s nothing to hang your heads about.”

It has indeed been a special season for Troup, which was 23-0 before falling to Sandy Creek.

Troup was within a point in the final minute, but Sandy Creek pulled away down the stretch to win by seven and capture a fourth consecutive region title.

“It wasn’t one of our best games for sure,” Thornton said. “We didn’t execute on offense like we normally do. The energy level was a little down from what we normally have. We’re ready to get back out there and play and show that we are a better team than what we showed on Saturday.”

Troup was in the game in the final minute thanks in large part to the effort of the team’s lone senior, Amber Gilbert.

In the third quarter Gilbert went down with a knee injury, but she returned in the fourth quarter and made four 3-pointers in a three-minute span.

“She said coach, I’m ready,” Thornton said, recalling her conversation with Gilbert after the injury. “I asked her if she was ready to play defense, and she said I’m ready. She has the will to win. She wants to help her teammates so bad, so she’s willing to go back out there like that.”

It was a remarkable effort by a player who is a four-year starter and has been a part of a lot of memorable moments over the years. Gilbert pushes herself and her teammates to always give 100 percent, and Thornton appreciates the intensity she brings to the court.

“That just shows how passionate she is about the game,” Thornton said. “Some people may read it wrong sometimes, because she has so much passion that it may come across as her being angry. But she just loves what she does out on the court.”

If Gilbert isn’t able to play on Friday because of the knee injury, there are plenty of other players able to pick up the slack.

Sophomore Aniya Palmer is Troup’s second-leading scorer behind Gilbert, and she is an explosive player capable of scoring points in bunches.

A freshman, Alexcia Murphy, is averaging nearly 10 points per game and has become a go-to player as the season has gone along.

Juniors Jada Green and Darnesheyuna McCollough and sophomores Monyia Murphy and Samarria Weldon have also been key players for the Lady Tigers.

“You see they’re young, but you see how much they’ve progressed since game one,” Thornton said. “You see how much they’ve grown as people, and as players on the court. You see how much they’ve gelled, especially that game Friday night (a 64-39 win over Cedartown in the region semifinals) with the team work that we showed. It was amazing.”

Thornton’s hope is that everything will come together at state.

“I’ve told them, it’s in you,” Thornton said. “If we have everybody show up and play on the same day, then you’d be unstoppable. Right now it’s two people showing up. We need to be full-speed ahead with everyone.”

TROUP VS. CHESTATEE

WHAT: First round of Class AAAA girls state tournament

WHEN: Friday, 5 p.m.

WHERE: Troup High

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Troup (23-1) finished second in the Region 5-AAAA tournament; Chestatee (15-12) finished third in the Region 7-AAAA tournament

UP NEXT: The winner will play Hardaway or Cross Creek in the second round