By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
There was not one specific reason that South Fulton’s season ended with a 44-40 loss to Lake County in the Region 7A girls’ semifinals Saturday night.
There were several, according to head coach Curt Lee.
“We didn’t take care of the ball, we didn’t get it in the right people’s hands and we didn’t look to score at times when we did,” the SF skipper said, listing factors in his team’s defeat after beating the Lady Falcons in two of three previous meetings this season.
“And we didn’t have any of our role players step up and make any contributions on the offensive end.”
The disappointing loss kept SF from making it to the sectionals for the first time in eight seasons, though the team’s final 23-8 mark represented the program’s most victories in more than a decade.
“Effort-wise, we got the maximum out of our kids most every night,” Lee said. “I certainly can’t complain about that.
“I guess that’s why this bothers me like it does. If we’d have just had the execution to go along with the effort, we’d be playing for the regional championship and headed to the sectionals.”
The Devilettes, who’d beaten LC by one point during the regular season and 13 in the district semifinals, dug themselves an 11-point third-quarter hole before rallying to within two on three different occasions in the fourth quarter.
Taleeah Cross had nine of her game-high 20 points in that third period when SF went from down 26-15 to behind just 31-29 at the horn after Laken Haley converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to cap a run of eight straight markers for the Devilettes.
Untimely turnovers down the stretch and misses on 4-of-5 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter ultimately proved to be South Fulton’s undoing, however.
A Cross triple with 13.9 seconds to go drew the Devilettes within 42-40 and the Big Red then had a chance to force overtime or win in regulation when LC’s Tiana Gray missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.8 seconds showing.
SF grabbed the rebound and sped to the offensive end, but Haley stumbled out of control on her way to the hoop, where a wild shot was way off and Cross picked up her fifth foul trying to chase down the rebound.
Wakeeelha Jones then made two free throws with six seconds showing — part of an 11-for-12 foul shooting performance by Lake County — to secure the Lady Falcons’ triumph.
“We had a couple of really good chances to pull even or take the lead and that would’ve put them in a tougher situation and maybe would’ve made them play with a little different mindset,” Lee added. “We just couldn’t make a key play or a key shot.
“We are very evenly-matched, I think, and that three of our four games were decided by four points or less proves that. They may be a little better than us athletically and on the offensive end at a couple of positions, and that was why it was important for us to get a little something from some of our role players. We never did, though.”
Cross and Haley combined for 33 of SF’s 40 points with the remainder of the team making just three field goals.
The contest was the last in a South Fulton uniform for Cross, Haley and Ka-lon Martin.
Lake County improved to 16-10 and will look to reverse the outcome of last year’s regional finals when the Lady Falcons were ranked No. 1 but were upset by Union City for the 7A title. Tuesday’s championship game at UCHS is set for 7 p.m., with both teams advancing to Saturday’s sectional regardless of that outcome.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.25.13