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BASKETBALL: Model girls find focus to win region title against Rockmart

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It was clear after the first period that the teams playing for the Region 7-AA girls’ basketball championship were not going to have it easy.

But in one eight-minute stretch, the Model Lady Devils fell back on their defensive mantra against an aggressive Rockmart squad and found the strength they needed to win 45-33, marking the team’s fourth straight region title with a celebration on their home court.

“It’s a great feeling and just a privilege to get to have this,” Model senior Victaria Saxton said. “The coaches and players we have make this like a big family, so it’s exciting to get to this point and celebrate it.”

After fighting to take an 11-8 lead in the first period, Model made some adjustments with 6-foot center Saxton getting a second foul early. Then fellow senior Moe Welch had to come out early in the in the second period after aggravating a right knee injury.

With both starters sitting, Model (22-3) ran its hard-nosed defense and junior Libby Upton scored seven of her team’s 11 points in the quarter while Rockmart failed to scored, giving the Lady Devils a 22-8 lead at halftime.

“It was our girls rising to the challenge and facing adversity as a team,” Model coach Sally Echols said. “We talk all the time about how we are not a one-man show, and I think we proved that in the second period. It was an excellent example of great team basketball.”

Rockmart (19-8) held a 6-3 lead midway through the opening period before Model took over on offense, piecing together a 19-2 run over the final 16 minutes of the first half.

“I just knew that like any problem we’ve had before we had to work together,” said Upton, who finished with 12 points. “We know that when certain people can step up then we can do well as a team.”

Saxton and Welch returned after the break only to have Rockmart post a 12-2 run to pull within four of the Lady Devils. But Model didn’t panic and went on a 10-2 run in the final three minutes of the third to go up 34-22.

“I feel like our patience on offense really contributed to it and just making sure that we could keep our communication going,” Saxton said. “They try to come at you fast, and when we can slow it down and play our game it’s better for us.”

Saxton, who signed with South Carolina before the season, scored seven of her team-leading 13 points in the fourth as the teams traded baskets. Rockmart freshman had eight in the frame as she finished with 13 as well, going 5-of-7 at the line, while Madison Davis had nine points off of three 3-pointers.

Both teams will host the first round of the Class AA state playoffs on Friday with opponents and times to be determined. Model enters as the No. 1 seed from the region for the fourth year in a row.

“It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s also a tribute to the work all the girls put into this team,” Echols said of four region titles in a row. “There are seven seniors in this group that were a part of this four years ago, and they were part of this today.”