HEADING in to the Region 8-AA championship game against Rabun County, the Lady Dragons knew they had their work cut out for them.
The Wildcats had dealt Jefferson its only two region losses earlier in the season and were aiming for a three-peat. But Jefferson head coach Jason Gibson and his team were unfazed by their previous losses and prepared to play with confidence.
“We knew we could beat them,” said Gibson. “It was just a matter of getting out there and executing.”
In the regular season, the Dragons fell to Rabun County by three points on the road and by six points at home in games that were both decided late in the fourth quarter.
Saturday in Rabun County, the Lady Dragons came out intent on not letting history repeat itself.
Jefferson opened the contest by playing stalwart defense, holding the Wildcats without a field goal through the first quarter.
“That really set the tone for the rest of the game,” added Gibson.
The Dragons outscored Rabun County 11-4 in the first quarter, and led the Wildcats by six points heading into halftime.
The Dragons added 19 third quarter points to extend their lead and never looked back as they held on for the 56-48 victory.
“There were several times when Rabun got close, but our girls never lost composure and held on,” Gibson said. “I was very proud of the way they played.”
Gibson also praised the superb play of his bench, noting that a couple Jefferson starters got in early foul trouble and were forced to sit out several minutes.
“Our defense was the real difference,” added Gibson. “The girls did an outstanding job. We contained players on the outside and did a great job on the glass.”
Freshman Abbie Franklin led the Dragon offense with 24 points and six assists. Kellie Goza added nine points and nine rebounds, while Hope Forrester tallied six points, seven rebounds and seven blocks.
The Lady Dragons were successful in completing one of their primary goals set early in the season – winning the region tournament. Jefferson now begins preparation for a post-season run.
As region champions, the Dragons qualified for the state tournament as a No. 1 seed and secured home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
On Friday (time T.B.D.), the Lady Dragons will host the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AA, Lovett.
The Lions are 7-18 on the season, and most recently fell to Westminister 46-40 in the Region 6-AA consolation finals. Still, Gibson believes Lovett’s record could be deceiving.
“Lovett is a good team,” he said. “They play in an extremely tough region. They are definitely battle-tested.”
Jefferson won’t have much time to prepare in between state tournament matchups due to the fact that winter weather constricted the tournament schedule. Gibson feels that it’s important for his team to continue to improve its fundamentals and focus on correcting mistakes.
“We just need to continue to focus on what we do rather than what (Lovett) does,” added Gibson.