Clinching a state tournament berth last year brought euphoria to the Jackson County girls’ basketball program. This year, it was strictly business. The Lady Panthers (15-11) earned their way back to the Class AAA tournament with a 53-25 win over Monroe Area last Tuesday before losing their final two games in the region tournament.

“I think they’ve taken a step of maturity,” coach Julie McCutcheon said of her team. “Last year was just so dramatic to be able to get there after 12 years … They really just took that win (last Tuesday) in stride and kept moving.”

Jackson County will travel to face Region 6-AAA No. 1 seed Haralson County (25-4) on Friday at 7 p.m.

Carlie Anderson scored 13 points, and Destiny Gaudlock added 12 points in the tournament-clinching win over Monroe Area. Brianna Love finished with six points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

McCutcheon said, “it wasn’t just about making it to state this year.”

“I feel like mentally, we have grown up,” she said. “You’ve got to get there first, and that was our thing last year. We just had to be happy to be there because none of the girls had ever experienced it. Now they have and we’re all hungry for something more.”

The team, however, finds itself in the same position it was last year for the state tournament. Jackson County finished as a No. 4 seed after closing the tournament with losses to Franklin County, 62-34, on Thursday in the region semifinals and to Hart County 62-34 in the region consolation finals.

Against Franklin County, the Lady Panthers committed eight first-quarter turnovers, though only trailed 17-15 heading into the second quarter. But Franklin County scored the 11 points of the second quarter. Mya Jones’s high-arcing 3-pointer at the 4:45 mark gave Franklin County a 28-15 lead.

The Lady Lions’ lead grew to 37-21 at halftime. Franklin County opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run to push its lead out to 25 points, and the Lady Lions led by as much as 32 points in the fourth quarter.

Love finished with eight points for Jackson County. Anderson added seven points and 13 rebounds.

McCutcheon said her team committed too many turnovers and gave up too many offensive rebounds to beat a team of Franklin County’s caliber.

“I really think the turnovers are the bottom line and the blocking out,” she said. “They got way too many second opportunities … But the turnovers just cost us the game, bottom line.”

Jackson County lost by the same score the following night to Hart County in the region consolation finals on a cold-shooting night. The Lady Bulldogs dominated the second-half in the 28-point victory.

Hart County only led 26-24 at halftime but pulled away from Jackson County in the third quarter, outscoring the Lady Panthers 19-6. The Lady Bulldogs extended their lead with a 17-6 fourth quarter run.

Love led Jackson County with nine points as the Lady Panthers shot just 15 percent from the field. Anderson finished with 10 rebounds.

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