The chance for the Jefferson girls’ basketball team to complete region play at 12-0 was not an afterthought for the No. 2-ranked Dragons. Jefferson was in pursuit of perfection.
With 16 points from Livi Blackstock and 14 points from Courtney Kidd, the Dragons sprinted past Jackson County 64-34 Friday (Jan. 31) at home to finish the 8-AAA schedule undefeated.
“It’s extremely special,” Jefferson coach Greg Brown said. “We talked about it. It’s a big deal to us. I made mention of it a couple weeks ago that, especially after we already clinched, we just talked about it not being good enough ... It would mean a lot to go through this region undefeated. That’s special.”
Jefferson will carry the No. 1 seed into the Region 8-AAA tournament. The Dragons begin postseason play Thursday (Feb. 6) at 7 p.m. in the semifinals at Emmanuel College.
The Dragons came out firing from the perimeter against Jackson County’s zone defense in Friday's win, hitting four 3-pointers en route to taking a 24-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game. Jefferson scored just 24 points in the first half against the Panthers’ zone defense in the team’s previous meeting (Jan. 7), a 51-23 Dragon win.
“We were a little bit more prepared (this time),” Brown said. “Because the first time they held us to 50. Definitely slowed us down. But I thought we moved the ball well, and it helped that we hit some shots. We got them to turn it over there a little bit early. But I thought it was very encouraging to see us execute the way we did because we got the shots we wanted, not the ones they dictated.”
Jackson County (6-19), which finished region play as the No. 4 seed at 4-8 (the Panthers begin region tournament play Tuesday at 4 p.m. against Monroe Area at Franklin County), didn’t answer with a basket until the final seven seconds of the first quarter when Carson Anderson connected on a 3-point shot.
The Panthers’ best stretch of the game came midway through the second quarter when they scored 10 consecutive points to cut a 31-7 lead to 31-17, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Sydney Hayes and Kennedy Harris. Ashlyn Thompson also scored a pair of baskets during the stretch. Thompson led the Panthers with 12 points.
But Jefferson’s Ellie Kinlaw ended the Panthers’ run with a 3-pointer with 2:40 left in the first half, igniting a 12-0 Dragon run. That run included a 26-second stretch in which Jefferson scored eight points. Blackstock knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and Jyesha Butts scored off a steal in that span. The Dragons led 43-17 at the half.
Jefferson didn’t allow a Jackson County basket in the second half until Mikenna Duffy scored at the 2:19 mark in the third quarter. The Dragons led 53-19 at that point. Jefferson took a 32-point lead (55-23) into the fourth quarter and led by as many as 37 points in the final period.
The Dragons’ 30-point win not only secured a perfect region record, but it also came on senior night.
“It’s always nice to win on senior night in front of a big crowd,” Brown said. “I thought (senior) Chloe (Hiatt) had a good night … (senior) Margo (Perry), we got to get her in there a little bit more tonight — two great kids who have been nothing but just good leaders for our program.”
Jefferson now enters postseason play with a 21-4 record and a No. 2-ranking in Class AAA. The Dragons’ only losses have come to Class AAAAA No. 1-ranked Buford and two ranked Class AAAAAAA teams — North Forsyth (twice), and Tift County. Brown said those losses have prepared his team for big-game scenarios in the future.
“Our kids are really excited about getting that opportunity again,” Brown said. “I know they are. We’ve talked about it. They’ve practiced like they want to get that opportunity again.”