JEFFERSON and Jackson County haven’t met on the hardwood in years, but it didn’t take long to inject interest into the renewed rivalry.
Jefferson’s girls fended off a late charge from Jackson County Friday to grab a 54-52 road win in the much-anticipated matchup between the neighboring schools.
Rachel Goza jump-stops in Jefferson's Friday victory over Jackson County. Photo by Ben Munro
“We’re extremely excited about the win,” Jefferson coach Jason Gibson said. “Both teams, I’m sure it (the game) was marked on both calendars, as far as the first time we’ve played in a long time. We did try to approach it like it was just another region game. We wanted our kids to be focused and ready to play. It was big on several fronts.”
Freshman Bailey Boyd gave the Lady Dragons a huge lift, scoring 16 points. Skylar Evanson added 11 points and Kellie Goza finished with 10 as Jefferson bounced back from a Tuesday loss to North Oconee.
Jackson County’s Ashley Skelton poured in 23 points in the losing effort. Bre Drew added 12 and Emily Elrod had 10.
Jackson County fell victim to another rough third quarter, something that’s plagued it all year. The Lady Panthers led 26-21 at the start of the second half, but saw that lead erased after halftime.
“We came out there with our typical third-quarter flatness,” Lady Panther coach John Hawley said. “We’ve got to learn how to stay focused coming out in the second half.”
Jackson County had won five straight heading into the game but trailed 50-40 with 3:58 left. The Lady Panthers, however, made a late charge, going on a 10-3 run to cut Jefferson’s lead to 53-50 with 28 seconds left.
“We’ve been battling at the end of games and the kids did it again,” Hawley said of his team’s late comeback. “It’s like I told them. You can’t do that night-in and night-out and win ball games.”
Boyd’s free throw with nine seconds remaining — on the heels of seven-straight misses by the Lady Dragons — gave Jefferson a two-possession lead and made Elrod’s lay-up as time expired meaningless.
“Fortunately for us in the second half, we had a big enough lead to where when we started to miss some free throws down the stretch we were able to hang on,” Gibson said.
Jackson County started out strong in grabbing a 26-21 lead at the half. That lead could have been larger, Hawley said.
“The first half there, very easily we should have been up probably by 12 or 14,” Hawley said. “We missed some really easy buckets.”
Jefferson tied the game at 32 with 2:49 left in the third quarter and went ahead for good with a three-pointer from Boyd at the 1:29 mark.
The Lady Dragons began the fourth quarter with a 12-6 run.
“The second half, we attacked them and tried our best to go inside as much as we could to try to keep the pressure on them a little bit,” Gibson said. “Defensively, we did a little bit better job of matching up and making sure we didn’t give those kids those same open looks.”
Now, the schools can look forward to the rematch — Feb. 11 — after a lively first meeting.
“Good game (Friday) night,” Hawley said. “I thought both clubs played really hard to night hats off they did a great job. I think both the kids, they all came tonight.”