By David Dawson
During the past few weeks, the Model girls have often used a high amount of energy on defense to offset their low amount of scoring.
That formula didn’t work out on Tuesday night.
The stingy defense was there once again, yes. But the lack of offensive production was too much for Model to overcome in a 47-37 loss to defending state champion Lovett in the opening round of the Class AA state tournament.
Model scored just six points in the third quarter and nine in the fourth while being saddled with a season-ending loss to Lovett for the second consecutive season.
Last year, the defeat came in the Elite Eight in Dalton. This time, the loss came on Model’s home floor, where a raucous crowd created plenty of noise, but still wasn’t quite able to get the Lady Devils’ offensive motor running.
Only two Model players finished in double figures, with Timia Reynolds scoring 11 points and Kaylee Akin adding 10 for the Lady Devils.
Taylor Brown scored 19 points and Te’Erica Eason added 11 for Lovett, which now advances to the Sweet 16 to face Rabun County.
Model’s defense held Lovett star Sydney Umeri to just eight points.
But Lovett made up the difference by hitting five 3-pointers, including three by the sharp-shooting Brown.
Model’s Reynolds, one of seven seniors on the roster, said the Lady Devils approached the state tournament as a chance to start over in terms of boosting their productivity.
“We wanted to (keep doing) what we’ve done on defense,” said Reynolds, “but step it up on offense.”
The Lady Devils were unable to do that, however, as they were held below 40 points for the third consecutive game.
They scored 46 points or less in seven of their final 13 games.
“Defensively, we haven’t let anything slip,” said Model coach Sally Echols.
“But offensively, for some reason, we couldn’t get clicking on all cylinders (during the final part of the season).
“We kept waiting for the light to come on,” said Echols. “And the light was there, it was just too dim. It never got bright enough.”
Model scored just five field goals in the second half of Tuesday’s loss, and Lovett capitalized.
The Lady Lions, who owned a 24-22 lead at the half, outscored Model 14-6 in the third quarter to build a 38-28 advantage, and never allowed Model to get closer than nine points in the final eight minutes.
“They’re a good team,” said Echols about Lovett. “They are the defending state champs for a reason.”
Model’s offense got off to a quick start, scoring 10 points in the first four minutes, as Kaylee Akin knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Carla Clemmons and Kaylee Akins each provided baskets.
Things continued to click early in the second quarter, when Karlee Akin hit a 3-pointer and Clemmons added another bucket in the paint to give Model a 19-14 lead with 5:52 left in the period.
But Lovett closed the half with a 10-3 run to turn the game around and grab a 24-22 lead at the end of the tightly-contested first half.
Overall, there were three ties and seven lead changes in the first two quarters.
There was one more lead change early in the third quarter when Karlee Akin knocked down a 3-pointer to give Model a 25-24 lead.
But Lovett answered with seven straight points, and the Lady Lions never trailed again.
The loss was naturally emotional for the Lady Devils, especially for the seniors.
“It’s hard — words can’t even explain it,” said Reynolds, a four-year starter.
“I don’t know what to feel. It’s not like I won’t ever see (my teammates) again.
“But just thinking of not being out there again with them for one more game, it’s very, very hard.”
It was likewise difficult for Echols, noting that she had known many of them since they were infants.
“It goes beyond basketball,” she said.