TIFTON — The Tift County Lady Devils head coach Julie Conner could not have asked for a better birthday gift.
Her squad not only defeated the Newton Lady Rams, 55-38, they advanced to their first quarterfinals since 1995. Their quarterfinal game will be another home game, against North Cobb, a 70-37 winner over Rockdale County on Saturday night.
It was a quick start for Tift County. Ninety seconds into the game, Alexis Johnson was fouled on a made basket and made the free throw and the Lady Devils were off.
Newton would be held scoreless for the first three minutes, spotting the host team a 6-0 lead. It would rally to tie it within a minute when Sonia Forney’s bucket knotted it at six. Tift would jump back out to a five-point lead 13-8. The Lady Rams would get within one near the end of the quarter, but Brakia Bateman made it a two-point game 14-12 at the end of the first.
It would be Newton who started the second quarter with a spark. It would see its only lead of the game 16-14, at 5:54. Tift tied it 15 seconds later. The Lady Rams had another chance to be on top, but missed a pair of free throws and the Lady Devils would develop other plans. A pair of treys by Dee Dee DeShazer and Dail Adaway provided much of the juice during the run, which extended to 15-0 and five minutes of zero offense from Newton until a free throw with 41 seconds in the period broke its cold streak. It would be the last points of the half and the Lady Devils went to their locker room with a 29-17 advantage.
The third frame’s early seconds indicated a runaway for Tift as DeShazer’s three pushed it to a 15-point lead. Newton finally snapped back into action and the lead was sawed in half midway through the quarter 32-24. DeShazer then scored and the game again belonged to the Lady Devils. It was 39-29 going into the fourth and the long distance shots for Newton were refusing to fall.
Electing to go into a slowdown game in the fourth, Conner’s squad knocked large chunks off the clock on every possession, and Newton was forced to start fouling. Unlike Wednesday when the free throws were not dropping, the Lady Devils had a much more rewarding night from the charity stripe, finishing 22-30 on the evening. DeShazer would nail two more with 49 seconds left as the final icing on the cake and substitutes finished out the remainder of the game. The 55-38 final improved their record to 23-6 and featured key nights from many players. DeShazer finished with 19 points to lead all scorers and DeJai Jordan added 10. Adaway had seven, all in the second quarter. Precious Price led Newton with 14.