During the first three quarters of the opening round of the Class AA state tournament, points were hard to come by between the Banks County Lady Leopards and the South Atlanta Hornets.
The Lady Leopards led 32-30 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, though, points were needed in bunches to stave off a Hornets' comeback.
Two-seeded Banks County scored 24 fourth-quarter points to down three-seeded South Atlanta 56-53 in a thrilling first-round matchup Feb. 14. The Lady Leopards (15-15) will play at Vidalia in the Sweet 16 on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.
Vidalia holds a 23-4 record. The Indians defeated Jefferson County 68-27 in the first round. Vidalia has scored more than 50 points in six straight games entering Wednesday's contest.
Heather Vaughan led all scorers in the win vs. South Atlanta, dropping 22 points including 20 in the second half. She scored 11 points in the fourth quarter including four free throws in the final 46.2 seconds to help give Banks County the advantage.
Jenna Reeves scored 19 points. She scored nine in the fourth quarter.
"We'll take it," head coach Steven Shedd said after the win. "Sweet 16, we'll take it."
During Shedd's tenure as head coach, the two closest playoff games have come against South Atlanta, a 68-62 loss in 2017 and Friday night's 56-53 win.
"I think they're very, very athletic," Shedd said of South Atlanta. "They're very quick. They're very physical ... I felt like, in the beginning of the game, my goal was to press them. Play man defense, try to get them to turn the ball over.
"But they just handled the ball way too well and were a little too quick for us."
Shedd added South Atlanta's style of play forced his group to go into a 2-1-2 zone defense, which yielded enough stops to help get the win.
Shedd also praised the play of Vaughan and Reeves down the stretch in pivotal moments of the game.
"(Vaughan) picked up a couple of big 3s in the second half," Shedd said. "(South Atlanta) did a good job of face-guarding her at times. She got really, really tired, but I was proud of her. She stepped up.
"Jenna got hurt. She's got a big, huge bump on her elbow. We're praying that all turns out all right. Praying that the swelling goes down and that there's nothing bad wrong in there. We'll hopefully have her Wednesday. Of course, she went back out there and played (tonight)."
Even in the win, Shedd said this was the first game where missed shots "plagued" his group.
"In years past, that has been a problem," he said. "It hasn't been a problem this year, until tonight. So, I think that's a little bit of a focus and nervousness issue.
"We're going to have to work on that Monday and Tuesday."
The first quarter started with turnovers for the Lady Leopards, but ended with made shots. Reeves dropped five points to help give Banks County a 10-9 lead.
Banks County controlled the second quarter. Jacy Ayers opened the Lady Leopards' scoring with a corner 3-pointer, her second of the game. Banks County led by four points.
Leading 17-13, Reeves hit a corner 3-pointer with under two minutes left to push the lead to 20-13. The Lady Leopards led 21-15 at the break.
Midway through the third quarter, the game looked like it was going to be a blowout in favor of Banks County. When Vaughan hit her first 3-pointer of the game, Banks County led 28-15.
South Atlanta, though, wasn't going to go down without swinging. The Hornets put together a 15-4 run to close the third quarter and trim Banks County's lead to 32-30 entering the fourth.
The final frame was back-and-forth. South Atlanta opened with four points to take the lead 34-32. But a Sadie Simpson layup, followed by free throws from Reeves, gave the Lady Leopards a 36-34 advantage with 5:24 left.
After South Atlanta hit a 3-pointer to regain control, Hailey Seahorn knocked down a bucket to put Banks County back ahead by one. The lead grew to four when Vaughan hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 41-37.
South Atlanta hit another 3-pointer, but the Lady Leopards followed with a layup and a pair of free throws from Vaughan to push the lead to five, 45-40.
The Hornets responded with another 3-pointer and free throws to tie the game at 45-all. Reeves, though, broke the tie with a jumper from near the basket to put Banks County back ahead 47-45 with 3:12 left to play.
Another South Atlanta response, though, put the Hornets ahead 48-47. Reeves, again, answered the bell for the Lady Leopards, scoring a layup with 2:08 left to go for a 1-point Banks County advantage.
The Hornets had a chance to take the lead from the charity stripe with 1:34 left but, as was the case throughout the game, South Atlanta failed to take advantage, going 1-of-2 to knot the game at 49-all. The Hornets went 8-of-22 from the line.
Vaughan sent Banks County back ahead 51-49 with a layup at the 1:27 mark. After South Atlanta tied the game with free throws on two different occasions, Vaughan, again, put Banks County ahead 53-51 with free throws with 46.2 seconds left.
South Atlanta responded with a layup at the other end and the score was 53-all. Vaughan, though, put Banks County ahead for good with a pair of free throws with 29.1 seconds left. The Lady Leopards led 55-53.
After a Hornets' miss at the other end, Reeves came away with the rebound and was fouled. She went 1-of-2 on her free throws, and South Atlanta had one last effort to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but the shot didn't fall and the rebound was collected under the basket when the clock expired.