Of all the highlights this season for the Model girls’ basketball team, the most motivating moment for the Lady Blue Devils might have been hitting a low.
According to head coach Sally Echols, it took losing a game to catapult the Lady Blue Devils into a postseason run leading up to Saturday’s GHSA Class AA Final Four matchup against Early County. The Lady Devils will tip off against the Lady Bobcats at 2 p.m. at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
The loss came against Chattooga in the Region 7-AA tournament semifinals and stung for Model, Echols said, depriving it of a fifth straight region title. But the team never gave up, and worked to win three straight state playoff contests against higher-seeded opponents to find themselves back in the state semifinals for the third season in a row.
“Some of the greatest lessons come through a loss,” Echols said. “They took it to heart when we lost to Chattooga. They knew that they didn’t want to feel that again, so they played with an intensity and a passion that, prior to the Chattooga game, would come and go. But since then that fire is burning every single day. The energy in our practices has translated into the game.”
Model (22-7) faces an Early County team Saturday that is coming off a 73-60 upset over top-seeded Rabun County, which topped Chattooga 82-40 in the second round. If the Lady Blue Devils can topple the Lady Bobcats they will play in the championship game at the Macon Centreplex next Thursday at 2 p.m.
Early County (26-4) is the No. 2 seed out of Region 1-AA, having lost to Fitzgerald 66-64 in the region championship game.
“They’re obviously a very good team,” Echols said of Early County. “They weren’t region winners either. They’re not a stranger to the playoffs either, so we know they’re experienced. But the biggest thing is what we key on every game, and that would be defense.”
Expectations were unknown for Model this season with the loss of a senior class that featured all-time Model leading scorer Victaria Saxton, who is now a regular contributor for South Carolina. The outlook hasn’t had an adverse effect on the Lady Blue Devils, and a Final Four spot solidifies this team as one of the most successful Model teams as they get ready for their seventh appearance in the state semifinals in school history.
Overall, the Lady Devils have embraced their role as underdogs in the playoffs as they are the lowest-seeded team remaining in any of the GHSA girls’ brackets.
“It’s funny. They’ve owned it since the first day of June basketball, that no one was going to expect us to be what we were last year,” Echols said earlier this week after defeating Josey in overtime in the Elite Eight. “Having lost V (Victaria Saxton) and a senior class that was so crucial to our success the previous four years."
This season, seniors Libby Upton and Megan Kent have led Model onto the court night after night with the support of a strong group of underclassmen like Montana and Madison Moats, Madison Harper and Nia Allen.
“We fought through so much adversity and we have been looked over this year and we’re finally proving ourselves," Upton said. "We’re finally showing everyone that we are who we said we were going to be and we’ve lived up to that."
“We play with a chip so we’re playing a lot harder than some other teams,” Kent added.