KENNESAW — The Darlington girls set several goals at the beginning of the season, and they have accomplished many of them so far.
They captured the Gold Ball at the RN-T/Seven Hills Rotary Club Holiday Festival, but the Lady Tigers won’t get a shot at the next trophy they hoped to grab this season.
Darington knew it had a tough task on its hands as it faced perennial powehouse St. Francis in the semifinals of the 6-A Region tournament at Mt. Paran.
And although the Lady Tigers battled back each time the Lady Knights grabbed control of the game, the hill was too big to climb as St. Francis downed Darlington, 71-57.
“We had opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, but couldn’t put that ball in the hole and make that one big basket that would get us back (in it),” said Darlington coach Josh Hembree.
“We would cut it to three or four in the second half and we would make a turnover and they would hit a three. Then we would miss a shot and they would hit a three.
“Give (St. Francis) credit, they did what it took,” added Hembree.
Hitting 3s is exactly what the Lady Knights did. After an early deficit, Darlington cut the lead to four points before the half before St. Francis hit a long 3 to extend the lead to 31-24 at the break.
In the second half, each time the Lady Tigers cut the deficit to under five points, St. Francis’ Abby Grant took advantage of every Darlington mistake to push the lead back up. Grant hit seven 3s in the second half, eight total, on her way to game high 27-point night.
“We fought hard, and I told my girls how much I appreciated the effort that they gave, but we have to get out of this thing of relaxing mentally or playing scared or tentative,” said Hembree. “We’re just not very good when we do that, and some teams can do that but we can’t.
Three players reached double figures for the Lady Tigers (20-7). Rachael Simon finished with 11 points, Keara Evans had 10, and Sarah Manning had the biggest impact of them all by scoring a team-high 18 points.
Hembree gave much credit to Manning for her “incredible game,” and noted that this game could have been a lot different without her.
“Sarah is so active and she got that ball she fought, made big shots, and grabbed big rebounds,” said Hembree. “To be honest, without her contribution tonight we probably would have gotten blown out.
“This is huge confidence boost for her, she’s been doing that all year for us, and we’re real proud of things she did tonight.”
Darlington’s season is far from over. The Lady Tiger will now sit and wait as the final Class Power Rankings are reviled and the brackets finalized.
Unlike the other classifications, the Class A state tournament now has a separate public and private school bracket, and the Power Rankings decide most of the bids (aside from the region tournament winners, who earn automatic berths).
The Lady Tigers, and the Class A playoffs will begin on Friday, and now Darlington will just have to see where they are placed in the state tournament.
“It’s a waiting game now,” said Hembree. “We’ll know Wednesday who we play, but Monday and Tuesday are just going to be about us,” said Hembree. “It’s going to be about us getting better.
“We asked them in the locker room to give us all they had mentally and physically for the next two weeks and lets make a run at this thing and see how far we can go.”