JEFFERSON — Both the Jefferson and Rabun County girls teams have bigger fish to fry this season, no matter that both came into their Tuesday showdown ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications wanting bragging rights.
“We want to play great teams like (Rabun) to help us get ready for the playoffs,” said Jefferson coach Greg Brown, whose Class 4A top-ranked Lady Dragons rallied from a 12-0 hole to start the game for a thrilling 65-62 win at The Arena.
“(Rabun) is a young team and already very, very good and came out with more energy than we did. I was proud of how our girls responded.”
Lady Wildcats coach DeeDee Dillard felt her young squad, which is comprised of nine freshmen and sophomores, more than held their own.
“Jefferson just made some key shots late and that’s what good teams do,” Dillard said. “We had plenty of chances late but didn’t take advantage of them, which is unfortunate. We played even with them the whole way. Just a shame anyone had to lose that game.
“We need to play great teams like this to help us get prepared for the playoffs. This was a great learning experience for this group.”
Down 65-62 with 3.5 seconds left, Rabun County (11-1) got a three-quarters court length baseball pass to Gracie Deetz for a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime. But the shot bounced off the front-end of the basket as the buzzer sounded.
“They executed the play exactly like I drew it up and it looked good from my angle but just caught the rim,” Dillard said. “Can’t ask for a better look than that. Just didn’t fall for us.”
The Lady Wildcats fired out of the locker room as seven different players scored in the opening quarter and they led 12-0 less than three minutes in. But the Lady Dragons (10-2) began to chip away, mainly behind senior Livi Blackstock, who poured in 17 first half points.
Jefferson answered the opening barrage with a 12-4 spurt but a late Lucy Hood basket gave Rabun County a 24-14 lead after the first quarter. The Lady Dragons used another 12-4 run, capped by a Blackstock 3-pointer, to get within 28-26 midway through the second quarter. An Ellie Southards basket pushed Rabun’s lead back to 36-29 with a minute left in the half but a pair of Blackstock free throws and a Deshona Gaither driving layup at the buzzer pulled Jefferson to 36-33 at the intermission.
Ellie Kinlaw and Gaither opened the third quarter with a pair of quick baskets to give Jefferson its first lead at 37-36. It was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
The teams traded the lead 10 separate times to go with six ties deep into the fourth quarter. A Natalie Nix bucket gave Rabun its final lead at 54-52 with 4:56 left and after Jefferson’s Courtney Kidd and Rabun’s Hood traded 3-pointers, a Kinlaw trey with 3:23 gave the Lady Dragons a 60-57 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Blackstock hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 17 seconds to give them just enough of a cushion.
“They hit us for 24 in the first quarter but I thought we guarded them much better after that only giving up 38 the rest of the way,” Brown said. “Livi really stepped up, as did Deshona, but we also got some great minutes from our bench that was huge. We got exactly the kind of game we expected and wanted. It was two great teams and it was a great game.”
Blackstock finished with a game-high 23 points to lead Jefferson. Kinlow knocked down 16 points and Gaither had 15 for the Lady Dragons.
Deetz paced Rabun County with 15 points but was held to just four in the second half. Southers had 13 points, Hood 12, and Sophie Woodard 9 for the Lady Wildcats.