CHICKAMAUGA -The Gordon Lee Lady Trojans were more than happy not to have to endure a four-hour ride on a bus prior to their state basketball quarterfinal.
However, they're down right ecstatic about a four-hour road trip for their next game.
The sixth-seeded Lady Trojans (23-7) are headed to the Final Four for the first time in school history following Tuesday night's 73-68 win over 14th-seeded Seminole County (17-9) in a Class A public school Elite Eight matchup at the Ware-Jewell Center.
"Going to the Final Four means a lot to us," said senior guard Katie Barger. "We set the state championship as our goal at the start of the year, and just advancing to the next round means we're that much closer to getting there."
Barger came out of the gates on fire, connecting on her first two three-pointers and scoring the first eight points as the Lady Trojans jumped out to a 10-1 lead less than three minutes into the contest.
However, in what would be a recurring theme throughout the night, the Lady Indians would answer. Seven straight points pulled them out of the hole, and they would end the quarter ahead 20-18. Gordon Lee would use an 8-2 run to forge a 31-26 advantage with just under five minutes to play before halftime, only to see Seminole respond once more.
Patrice Barnes had 19 first-half points for the Lady Indians, who hit six shots from behind the arc in the game's first two quarters against Gordon Lee's 2-3 zone. Their red-hot perimeter shooting would keep them in the game as they went into the locker room deadlocked at 37.
Two more treys to open the second half gave Seminole its biggest lead, 45-39, but a switch to a more familiar man defense helped the Lady Trojans get right back in the game.
Down 52-51 to open the fourth, Gordon Lee went on an 11-1 run, highlighted by six points from Kassidy Blevins and a three-point play by Katelyn Lee, who missed most of the first half after picking up two early fouls.
The Lady Trojans appeared to have the game in hand, leading 68-60 with 1:05 to play, but the Lady Indians refused to fold. They picked up three free throws in a span of just three seconds, and following a Gordon Lee turnover, Katnese Brown converted a three-point play to chop the deficit to 70-68 with just 22 seconds remaining.
But Barger, who knocked down two free throws with 39 seconds left, connected on two more with 20 seconds to play, and sophomore Tiffany Holland thwarted the Lady Indians' with a steal just seven seconds later. Blevins would add one final free throw with 1.5 seconds remaining to ice the victory.
"It wasn't pretty, but we survived and advanced," said a relieved Gordon Lee head coach Lester Galyon. "(Seminole County) has a good team. Every time we went on a bit of a run, they had an answer. There were a couple of times where we could have dropped our heads, but we kept battling. We picked up the intensity when we had to, and we were able to create a few turnovers, which was probably the difference in the game.
"That final minute may have been the longest minute of my life, but it's all worth it because now we get to go someplace we've never been before, the Final Four, and I'm happy to get to experience it as a coach."
Blevins, the Samford University signee, had a monster night in her final game in Chickamauga, pacing the Navy-and-White with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Barger finished with 19 points for the Lady Trojans, who commited just seven turnovers all night while forcing 17 from the Lady Indians.
"I'm very proud of our girls," Galyon said. "Katie carried us that first quarter, and she went to the line late in the game and made some free throws when we needed them the most, and Kassidy has the ability to put our team on her shoulders when she has to. When you have a great player, it's nice as a coach to know you've got one that can get you through a tough stretch, and that's what she can do."
Brown and Barnes paced Seminole County with 24 and 23 points, respectively.
Up next for Gordon Lee will be a trip to Fort Valley State University on Friday for a 4 p.m. state semifinal game against Towns County. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.
Second-seeded Towns County slipped past seventh-seeded Claxton, 45-43, in their state quarterfinal game on Tuesday. Gordon Lee defeated Towns County, 70-69 in overtime, during the Battle of the States Tournament in Towns County in late December. The two teams have met three times in the Battle of the States in the last three seasons with the Lady Trojans winning all three meetings.
The other semifinal will pit top-seeded Randolph-Clay against fourth-seeded Wilkinson County. Randolph-Clay beat ninth-seeded Mitchell County, 72-55, while Wilkinson needed double overtime to hold off fifth-seeded Turner County, 76-74. That semifinal will tip off at 7 p.m.
Friday's winners will play for the Class A public school state championship on Thursday, Mar. 7 at the Macon Centreplex at 3 p.m.