Lady Dragons earn school's third state title in five
It looked to be a runaway from the start,
but Saturday's state Class A championship final turned out to
be anything but.
Jefferson's Lady Dragons recovered from a 12-point second-quarter
deficit to defeat the Lady Wolves of Wesleyan 55-52 to claim
the 2001 girls' state crown.
Wesleyan pulled out to an early 20-9 lead in the opening frame,
though a trio of crisp passes down the lane from Staci Childress
to Sunny Bush and Lee DuBose resulted in six quick points that
closed the gap to 22-15 by quarter's end.
"They sure had me worried in the first quarter," head
coach Kevin Jacobs said afterward. "We knew they'd come
out and hit some three pointers, but we didn't expect them to
hit that many." Wesleyan hit six shots from behind the line
in the first half.
Jefferson showed great patience in the second, passing around
the perimeter to open someone up. Melinda Floyd turned out to
be that someone, the junior wing hitting three three-point shots
in the period. Still, the Wolves held a five-point lead at the
Quarter three was the magic one for Jefferson. Jefferson's full-court
press held the Wesleyan offense in check, and the Wolves put
only two points on the board and came up with only one offensive
rebound. Wesleyan missed five shots from the paint, and in the
midst of the quarter gave up four straight turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Lady Dragons hit seven of 13 shots in the period
to take a 46-36 lead into the final quarter. Jefferson's technical
game was superb in the closing minutes, with several plays that
ran so smoothly, they looked as if they'd leapt off the chalkboard.
Wesleyan pressed hard in the fourth, and the tactic paid off
for the Wolves, though not as well as it had earlier for Jefferson.
The Lady Dragons missed two uncontested layups in the fourth
quarter, but DuBose put seven of her team's nine on the board
to maintain a slim edge.
Wesleyan's shooting remained suspect, but the Wolves' press managed
to pick off four of Jefferson's inbound passes in the quarter.
With a minute left and Jefferson up by seven, Nikki Luckhurst
tipped away an inbound pass and threw to Dana Birnie for an easy
two points. After a foul and a missed Lady Dragon free throw
attempt, Luckhurst found the basket from outside for three points
at the 27-second mark to make it a two-point game.
Guard Jenny Hall tipped another inbound pass away and picked
up the loose ball after a mad dash, but DuBose intercepted Hall's
pass across court and was fouled. DuBose hit the first of her
one-and-one foul shots, leaving Wesleyan plenty of time to set
up for a tying three-pointer.
The Lady Wolves rushed their shot a bit, and missed from three-point
range. Jefferson senior Ashley Evans fought for the rebound under
the basket, resulting in a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed
to Jefferson, with only two seconds remaining.
DuBose inbounded underneath the Wesleyan basket. Head coach Kevin
Jacobs had instructed DuBose to throw the ball as deep down court
as possible, and the junior followed the command. The ball was
picked off, and Wesleyan had one last chance to tie, but the
shot was taken late and missed the basket.
"We could probably play them 10 times, and it would come
out 5-5," Jacobs said of Wesleyan. "Today was just
our day. Our heart and our guts and our hustle have brought us
a long way."
DuBose had 22 points in the game. Melinda Floyd scored 14, and
Annie Goza 12.
For more coverage ,see this week's Jackson Herald.
swing to wins
If the Leopard's last three games are any indication of how the
rest of their games will go, they could be in for a good season.
Banks County scored 43 runs in their last three games while giving
up only 11.
"We came out hitting it," Leopard head coach Mike Williams
said. "I'm fairly pleased with the way we hit the ball."
The team combined for a .429 batting average over its first three
games. The Leopards have also hit five home runs.
Banks' next test will come Saturday in a doubleheader at Jackson
County beginning at 11 a.m.
On Monday, the Leopard's all-important region schedule will open
up against first-year school Apalachee.
"Jackson County will be a big game for us," Williams
said. "They'll be good and competitive. They're the best
team we'll see outside of the region. We feel like we can beat
them, so hopefully we can come out with a victory. But our main
focus is the region play."
As Banks County moves into its region schedule, the team will
have a chance to look at its past few games to find areas that
"Defensively we have not had a lot of opportunities to field
the ball," Williams said. "We've made some errors.
Our defense played OK, but they haven't been tested."
As for pitching, all three of Banks' hurlers saw time on the
mound last week.
"We saw several different guys throw and, for the most part,
we're pretty pleased with what we've seen," Williams said.
"We saw a little control problem against Lakeview, but some
of them may be nervous these first few games."
So far, the Leopards have posted a 2.72 ERA and have given up
seven earned runs. At the same time, Banks County has recorded
"I'd much rather see folks swinging than walking to first
base," Williams said.
Bats Hot, Gloves Cold
For Baseball Tigers
The hitting is there and the pitching
is coming around, but if the Commerce Tiger baseball team doesn't
find some defense, it'll be a long season.
Three games into the 2001 campaign, the 1-2 Tigers have committed
17 errors. In the process, they beat Athens Christian last Thursday
9-7 in Commerce, but dropped a doubleheader Saturday to Banks
County, 12-2 and 9-7.
"We made, in two games, 13 errors, which severely handicapped
us," pointed out coach David Cash. "We're not a good
enough hitting team or good enough pitching team to give that
many errors. We can't afford to give four outs in an inning,
but sometimes it felt like we were giving five or six."
The Tigers were scheduled to take on Athens Academy today (Wednesday)
at 4:30 at home.
"They're a pretty good team. I hope our errors will take
care of themselves. Our hitting is adequate, our pitching is
coming around, but our defense is still suspect," Cash concluded.
In the Athens Christian contest, the game went back and forth.
Athens Christian took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but
Commerce went up 4-1 in the bottom of the second. The Spartans
added a run in the top of the third, but Commerce answered with
three in the bottom of the inning. The Spartans scored three
in the fifth and one in the seventh, but the Tigers added two
in the fifth to preserve the win, picking up 12 hits along the
Freshman Casha Daniels, who pitched an inning and a third without
giving up a run, got the win. Dane Cotrell pitched two innings,
Steven Bihss worked, and Chad Jordan and Brody Bearden also pitched.
"We wanted to get a lot of people some pitches, and we were
real pleased with all of the pitching," said Cash, "Casha
Daniels especially. He came in in the top of the third, got the
out, then retired all three batters he faced in the fourth inning."
On offense, Kevin Wilson had a pair of doubles and two runs batted
in. Charlie Epps had two hits and two RBIs, Jordan had a pair
of hits and one RBI and Craig Henderson and Cotrell each had
a pair of hits.
BANKS 12, CHS 2
Cotrell pitched two innings and gave up seven runs on five hits
to take the loss, but he wasn't exactly supported by the Tigers'
offense or defense.
Banks County scored two runs in the first, five in the second,
three in the fifth and two in the sixth, while the Tigers' two
runs all came in the fourth inning. Commerce managed but three
hits, while making seven errors.
Bihss pitched three innings, giving up three runs on four hits,
and Henderson went two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs
on two hits.
Henderson's two-RBI single in the fourth was the highlight of
the Tiger offense.
BANKS 9, CHS 7
A seven-run second inning gave the Leopards a 9-2 lead and all
the runs they needed to sweep the twin bill.
The Tigers made it interesting with four runs in the seventh
inning, but the rally came up short.
Daniels took the loss for Commerce, giving up eight runs and
six hits in one complete inning. Bearden worked five innings,
giving up only one run on four hits.
Adam Stephenson had a solo homer and two RBIs, and Jordan picked
up an RBI for the Tigers in the only offensive highlights.
Jackson County 3-1 after first week of play
AFTER their first week of play, the Jackson County baseball team
is off to a solid start at 3-1.
The Panthers will take on Banks County and Rabun County Saturday,
beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday will also mark the team's annual
barbecue. Though tickets were presold, head coach Rusty Hendricks
indicated this week that there will likely be several chickens
left over for late-comers. The price is $5 per plate.
Lakeview will welcome the Panthers next Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.,
and the team's region schedule is set to begin March 23 at 5:30
p.m. at home against Monroe Area.
Tim Whisnant put up a no-hitter during last Wednesday's 6-0 blanking
of Apalachee. Whisnant faced 26 batters over seven innings, and
gave up only two walks.
"Tim had a good game," Hendricks said, "and we
played solid defense." The Panthers yielded only two errors
in the game.
Michael Savadge had the hot bat, with a home run, a double and
four runs batted in. Whisnant added a double to his spectacular
pitching performance, and Cody Fortson came through with a key
Blake Wilson kept his batting average perfect, with one hit and
a walk. Wilson was also hit by a pitch.
Jackson County split a doubleheader Saturday with Social Circle.
The Panthers won game one 9-1, behind strong pitching from Trey
McConnell. McConnell recorded eight strikeouts in the game, and
gave up only one walk and three hits.
Savadge continued to carry a hot bat, with a home run and a double.
"He's on fire right now," Hendricks said.
Fortson added a home run, Whisnant two doubles, and Wilson and
Michael Hill also doubled.
Lee Reese came through with a double and a sacrifice.
"We played a good solid game. Everybody did their part up
and down the lineup. We totally dominated the game offensively
Game two was a different story, with the Redskins winning 4-0.
Hendricks gave his bench players extensive playing time in the
"We didn't swing the bat well in that game. We could have
won, but we still felt good about what we've got going on. The
main thing is that we got Michael Savadge on the mound."
In his first pitching performance since a Christmas auto accident
that injured his pitching shoulder, Savadge struck out seven
and walked three in six innings. He gave up five hits, but only
one earned run.
"He didn't get a lot of defensive help," Hendricks
said. Jackson County committed six errors in the game.
"He felt confident afterward, and he didn't have any pain,
other than the normal arm tiredness. That was a big plus for
us. We don't like the errors, but we feel good about the starting
mix we've got out there.
"We feel real good about how hard the guys are working,
and our chemistry is good. We're still working toward the region
schedule. If we can get everybody back to 100 percent health,
we'll be able to compete."
1981 season was the peak of a remarkable MCHS girls' basketball
The old banner that hangs from the Madison County gym ceiling
is lifeless to those who don't know the stories behind the cloth.
But for many in this community, the 1981 Lady Raider state championship
banner signifies a part of their life that will never be forgotten.
They recall that some 1,500 Madison County faithful made the
trek to the Macon Coliseum March 14, 1981 - 20 years to this
day - to watch the Lady Raiders whip Teresa Edwards and the Cairo
Lady Syrupmakers 50-34, ending a magical 30-0 season.
They remember the trophy presentation, the smiles and hugs, shouts
of elation, the ride home, ending with fire trucks setting off
their hoses as the bus entered the school. Then a red carpet
was laid out for the victors as they got off the bus.
Sheila Collins, one of the top girls' players in the history
of girls' basketball in Georgia, averaged 33 points per game
that year for Madison County. She was the stuff of legend - still
And on that historic March day Collins outplayed the future Olympian
in one of the best matchups imaginable. Madison County entered
the contest at 29-0. Cairo was 30-0.
The Syrupmakers had a height advantage. But neither Collins nor
her teammates were intimidated. And why should they be? The Lady
Raiders had lost just nine games over the previous three years.
And with her team up 25-22 at intermission, Collins took the
floor again after halftime, knowing the day was Madison County's.
"I told Becky Porterfield when we came back on the court,
'We're not going to lose,'" said Collins, who finished the
game with 29 points to Edwards' 14.
Collins' dominance over Edwards typified the year for the star
and her team. Consider that the closest the Lady Raiders came
to a loss was a seven-point, 68-61 win over Forsyth County in
the second game of the season. Consider that the Lady Raiders
averaged 70.9 points per game, while allowing just 39.8 points
But on a broader scale, the 1981 season typified the times in
Lady Raider basketball. The championship season was the pinnacle
of a Madison County era of dominance under head coach C. Leon
Fitzpatrick, whose teams were 209-41 between 1976 and 1984. Fitzpatrick
retired from the position with the highest winning percentage
(83.6 percent) among active girls' coaches in Georgia at that
Madison County advanced to the state semifinals six times during
that run, making the state finals in 1978, 1979 and 1981.
Fitzpatrick said the 1981 squad was "not as talented as
the 78-79 team," but "they were a little more focused."
He added that the team had great senior leadership.
"They were an exceptional group of girls," said Fitzpatrick.
"They were just regular kids off the floor but very professional
on the court."
Fitzpatrick remembers how Becky and Beth Porterfield played solid
defense, how Lori Kinney could nail the outside shot, how Beverly
Johnson was "a good inside player to be only 5'9."
There were other players who contributed, too: Patsy Jones, Natalie
Allen, Latana Fitts, Lari Brown, Tammie Whitsel and Donna Arndt.
And Collins was, of course, amazing.
"She (Collins) could play the whole game - inside, outside,"
said Fitzpatrick. "She could go over big people. Her jump
shot was near perfect form. She had the kind of shot you don't
teach - picture book."
Collins, whose best game that year was a 57-point effort against
Franklin County, smiles when she speaks of one occasion in 1981
when her coach wasn't so happy with her.
She said her aunt wanted to take her to Atlanta to get her hair
done. But that meant skipping practice. So Collins told her coach
that she had to make a doctor's visit due to an illness. She
came back to school with a new hairdo.
"Which doctor?" the coach asked.
"I couldn't lie any more," said Collins.
So Fitzpatrick punished his star, benching her for the first
quarter in the showdown with Franklin County in the sub-region
tournament. A loss would have ended the season for the Lady Raiders.
"There were all these recruiters there to see me and I was
sitting on the bench," said Collins, who scored 29 points
after she entered the game in the second quarter. "My hair
looked great, but my aunt was having a fit."
But the recruiters noticed the girl with pretty hair. And Collins
went on to star at Tennessee, bouncing back from a knee injury
early in her college career with an All-America season as a senior.
Also in 1985, Collins was named SEC tournament MVP after scoring
95 total points in three tournament games. Following college,
Collins played professional ball in Italy and Germany.
Collins said she remembers the SEC MVP and the 1981 state championship
as the two most special moments in her basketball career.
"Playing in college was different than playing in high school,"
said Collins. "I enjoyed playing in high school because
it was so innocent. You just played because you wanted to. It
was a county effort. It pulled everybody together. I wouldn't
trade that for anything in the world."
Of all the coaches she's had, she remembers Fitzpatrick as one
of the best.
"He was very fundamental," said Collins of her high
school coach. "He was one of the most fundamental coaches
I've ever played for. He was very specific about what you were
supposed to do and when....Coach was able to make players accept
whatever role they had. I had to accept my role humbly."
Latana (Fitts) Coile, who now serves as an assistant varsity
girls' basketball coach at MCHS, recalls how the team dressed
alike and how the team motto was the popular song of the day,
"We are family." She said much of the team unity came
"He (Fitzpatrick) was real big on being a team," said
Coile. "He knew what roles people could play....Our team
chemistry was really unique."
Coile said the coach was more advanced than his counterparts
of the day.
"Coach Fitzpatrick was a little ahead of the game with what
we were doing defensively with the man-to-man and also with the
fast break," said Coile. "He was doing things that
coaches in the late 1980s and early 1990s began to do. Our style
was a little ahead of most people."
Fitzpatrick said the moments on the court were made much brighter
because of the strong support of the community. The former coach
recalls the dedicated fans - like Gerald and Glenda Jordan, Hoppy
and Patsy Royston, Alvin and Geraldine Stamps and Al Stone -
who rarely, if ever, missed a game.
And he remembers how the team was "mobbed" by fans
when it returned from Macon after the championship. The gym was
full of people cheering and waving banners.
"It was like a game was going on in there," said Fitzpatrick.
But perhaps the biggest reward for Fitzpatrick extends beyond
the 1981 season and has taken years to realize.
"All of these girls have been successful in life,"
said Fitzpatrick proudly.
And that success touched the Lady Raiders this season, as coach
Coile helped the Lady Raiders reach the state's Elite 8.
Coile said she still looks up from the sidelines at the banner
and reflects on the special moments of 1981.
"When you go in the gym and look up at that banner, there's
a sense of pride," said Coile. "It still moves you
20 years later. There's still a spark inside."
Two players on the 1981 state championship team have family ties
with this year's Lady Raiders. Lori Kinney's niece Sheena Mason
played for this year's team. Sheila Collins' niece Ashley Collins
also played for the 2000-2001 Lady Raiders.