The Jackson County girls’ basketball team certainly didn’t look like it had been away from the court since before Christmas, especially during a second-half surge Saturday.
The Panthers beat region opponent Eastside 59-46 at home to improve to 3-7 overall and 2-2 in region play. Jackson County took a four-point halftime lead and stretched it out to 20 points in the fourth quarter in the win.
Katie Hitt scored 22 points for the Panthers while Kennedy Harris added 15 points. Eastside’s Lizzy Teasley countered with a 34-point performance.
Jackson County hadn’t played since losing to Prince Avenue 61-42 on Dec. 22. Games against Loganville (Jan. 5) and Johnson-Gainesville (Jan. 8) were postponed because the Panthers were under COVID quarantine.
“They missed each other, and we have been focusing on playing in the moment,” Panther coach Christi Thomas said. “We are making small strides, and I am proud of them for fighting through all the adversity of COVID, digital school and no practices.”
Behind a 22-point first quarter — nine of which came from Harris — Jackson County carried a 31-27 lead into halftime. Hitt sparked the Panthers with eight points in the third quarter, including a basket at the 1:07 mark to increase Jackson County’s lead to 45-35. Naomis Sims hit a layup in transition late in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 47-35 edge heading into the fourth quarter.
Jackson County dominated the first three minutes of the final period, outscoring Eastside 8-0. Hanna Mahoney capped the run by nailing a short jumper at the 5:10 mark, giving the Panthers a 55-35 lead. Jackson County led by 19 points (59-40) with just over two minutes left with a basket from Hitt in the paint.
Thomas credited the defense for sparking the team’s second-half performance.
“Everything for us starts on the defensive end with our intensity and focus,” she said. “I think that was the biggest difference today.”
Jackson County hosts Apalachee Tuesday (Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m.) in Region 8-AAAAA play.