One-game season for Lady Tigers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s been a magical ride for the Troup Lady Tigers, but the work isn’t done.
With last week’s 56-47 victory over Carver, Troup advanced to the championship game of the Class AAAA state tournament.
Troup’s opponent in the title game will be Americus-Sumter, and those teams will meet at 11 a.m. on Friday in the Macon Coliseum.
If the Lady Tigers win, they’ll put the finishing touches on what has already been the finest season in the history of the program.
Troup (27-1) enjoyed an unbeaten regular season before losing to Sandy Creek in the championship game of the Region 5-AAAA tournament.
Troup followed that up with state-tournament wins over Chestatee, Cross Creek, McDonough and Carver, allowing the girls’ team to make it to the championship game for the first time ever.
The architect of the team’s success is Carla Thornton, who is in her 11th season as Troup’s head coach.
Thornton had a feeling this team could do something special.
The 2018-2019 season was a successful one for Troup, which went 17-9 and finished second in the region tournament before falling in the first round at state.
With everyone from that team set to return, Thornton’s hope was that the players would continue to improve, and use the disappointment from the way last season ended as motivation.
When the team convened for preseason practice, Thornton felt the players were laser-focused on making the 2019-2020 season one to remember.
“For the most part, that’s been their mindset since conditioning,” Thornton said. “They had the mindset that we’re playing for a state championship. I give them all the credit for that. That’s a goal that they had, and they were willing to put in the work. As a coach, I had to step up my game also. We watch film all the time and study the other team together. We spend time off the court together.”
Nearly every one of the current players was a member of last season’s team that lost to Oconee County 41-28 in the first round of the state tournament, including sophomore guard Monyia Murphy.
“After we lost the first round, we said this is not what we want to do next year,” Murphy said. “We want to go all the way and win a ring.”
Senior Amber Gilbert, a four-year starter, said “we knew we had to go harder” after the loss to Oconee County.
“I’m very proud,” Gilbert said. “We’ve worked hard to get where we are now.”
The journey began with a 63-36 win over Harris County on Nov. 19, and that was the start off an unblemished regular season.
There were a few close calls, most notably a dramatic home win over Sandy Creek where Troup rallied from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter.
After beating Cedartown in the semifinals of the Region 5-AAAA tournament to improve to 23-0, Troup lost to Sandy Creek 56-49 in the championship game.
It was a disheartening loss, but the players and coaches didn’t dwell on it.
Troup overwhelmed Chestatee 63-37 in the first round of the state tournament before winning a 46-45 thriller over Cross Creek in the second round.
Trailing by one point, Aniya Palmer raced down the court after pulling down a rebound with six seconds left, and she passed the ball to freshman Alexcia Gilbert, who knocked down the game-winning shot.
Troup followed that up with a 58-48 road win over McDonough in the quarterfinals before beating defending state-champion Carver 56-47 in the semifinals.
Now here they are, one victory away from making history and bringing home the state-championship trophy.
“We just have to go out and play ball like we know how to play, and work as a team,” Gilbert said. “Play defense, box out, and do what we need to do and we’ll win the game.”
WHAT: Class AAAA state-championship game
WHEN: Friday, 11 a.m.
WHERE: Macon Coliseum
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Troup (27-1) finished second in Region 5-AAAA and beat Chestatee (63-37), Cross Creek (46-45), McDonough (58-48) and Carver (56-47) in the state tournament; Americus-Sumter (28-2) finished second in Region 1-AAAA and beat Burke County (49-32), Marist (33-32), Spalding County (47-42) and Luella (56-51) in the state tournament