Troup ready for semifinal showdown
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The journey began more than three months ago with a routine road win over Harris County.
The Troup Lady Tigers won that game 63-36, and that was the start of what has become one of the finest seasons in the history of the program.
With Tuesday’s 58-48 road win over McDonough, the Lady Tigers (26-1) have advanced to the semifinals of the Class AAAA state tournament, leaving them two victories away from a state championship.
First up will be Friday’s game against defending state-champion Carver, with tip-off set for 2 p.m. at Fort Valley State.
If Troup can dethrone Carver, it will play either Luella or Americus-Sumter in the championship game on March 6 in Macon.
Friday’s task is a difficult one for Troup, even though Carver will be without its top player.
Olivia Cochran, a McDonald’s All-American and a Louisville signee, received two technical fouls during a third-round win over Woodward Academy, and she’ll be suspended for Fridays game.
It’s a tough blow for Carver, but Troup head coach Carla Thornton knows it will still be a big-time challenge for her team.
“They’re still the champs,” Thornton said. “Until they get knocked off, the title still belongs to them, so they have all my respect. They’re still number one in my eyes. To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
When Thornton watches Carver play, what she sees are a group of players who have a passion for the game.
“You can tell that they love the game of basketball when they play,” Thornton said. “Some people just have that mindset. It’s like a kill or be killed mindset.”
For Thornton’s team, it has been a spectacular season.
Troup won its first 24 games before losing in the Region 5-AAAA championship game to Sandy Creek.
Troup followed that up with a 63-37 win over Chestatee in the first round of the state tournament before beating Cross Creek 46-45 in the second round on a last-second shot by Alexcia Murphy.
In Tuesday’s game against McDonough, Troup broke open a close game late to win 58-48 and earn its spot in the semifinals.
Thornton feels the team has succeeded in large part because of the unselfishness of the players, and that manifested itself in the way one of the team’s veterans handled things when a freshman took her spot in the starting lineup.
“I’m just thinking about Alexcia (Murphy) and Darnesheyuna (McCollough),” Thornton said. “(McCollough) started, and Alexcia took her spot. She’s been encouraging her, telling her Lexi step up. She’s one of her number one fans. Seeing stuff like that just makes my heart smile. They’re not jealous of each other. Everybody was happy for Lexi when she had 25 points the other night (against McDonough).”
While Murphy had the hot hand against McDonough on the way to a 25-point outburst, senior Amber Gilbert came up big in crunch time like she always seems to do.
Gilbert scored 14 points, with seven of those points coming in the fourth quarter, and it was her three-point play that extended the lead from two to five with less than three minutes to play.
“She has that switch,” Thornton said of Gilbert. “It’s go mode. She puts the team on her back.”
Aniya Palmer has had a big sophomore season and is the team’s second-leading scorer behind Gilbert, and Samarria Weldon, Monyia Murphy, Jada Green and McCollough have been effective scorers as well.
Even on nights when a player isn’t scoring points, though, Thornton said she still has a critical role to play.
“That’s what I get across to them. Everybody doesn’t need to be a scorer,” Thornton said. “I need those people to be clamps on defense, locking people down. I need people to get rebounds. I need people to talk.”
This will be Troup’s third consecutive state-tournament game on the road, and the team has received plenty of fan support in the previous two games.
Against McDonough, in fact, Troup appeared to have more supporters than the home team.
Thornton is grateful to see the appreciation being shown for a hard-working group of players
“It’s good for people to show that love, and they’ve earned it,” Thornton said. “I’m happy that they’re getting noticed. It’s not about me. It’s all about them. I feel that they deserve it.”
TROUP VS. CARVER
WHAT: Semifinals of Class AAAA state tournament
WHEN: Friday, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Fort Valley State
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Troup (26-1) finished second in Region 5-AAAA and beat Chestatee, Cross Creek and McDonough in the state tournament; Carver (25-4) won Region 1-AAAA and beat Thomson, White County and Woodward Academy in the state tournament
UP NEXT: The winner will play either Luelle or Americus-Sumter in the state-championship game on March 6 at 2 p.m. in Macon