Thomas Jefferson's girls basketball team was bigger than Curtis Baptist's, was more experienced and already had beaten the Lady Crusaders twice this season.
None of this seemed to matter in the first round of the GISA Region 1-AA tournament Tuesday when No. 6 Curtis Baptist shocked the No. 3 Lady Jaguars with a 42-38 victory to earn a spot in next week's state playoffs.
The Lady Crusaders return to the state playoffs for the first time in four years. The top four teams advance from the tournament played at Curtis Baptist.
`We've been praying about this game all week," said first-year head coach Doug Wasden, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson. "I told our girls to just throw it all on the line. We were supposed to lose this game, but I always tell them to believe in themselves and in Christ."
The home crowd watched Meggie Bruce take control in the fourth quarter with her Lady Crusaders trailing by five. Bruce, the oldest player on the team as a junior, gave Curtis Baptist its first lead since the first quarter when she drove the lane for a layup with 5:39 left.
Bruce's layup gave the Lady Crusaders a brief one-point advantage as Laura Lynn Newsome came right back with a layup on the other end to make it a 36-35 Thomas Jefferson advantage. Newsome dominated the game, finishing with a game-high 25 points.
It was Newsome's game-winning jumper January 23 that lifted the Lady Jaguars over Curtis Baptist, 42-41.
But this game belonged to Bruce, who put the Lady Crusaders back up with a driving layup and sealed the win with three free throws to end the game. Bruce finished with 19 points, followed by sophomore LaToshia Broadwater, who chipped in 12.
With Broadwater being the tallest on the squad at just 5-foot-6 and Bruce being the oldest as only a junior, Wasden's chances seemed bleak going up against a tall senior-laden Thomas Jefferson team.
"It's amazing," he said. "Our goal was to get to the state (tournament) this season, but that seemed a little far out there for a team with mostly sophomores and freshmen and even an eighth grader. We beat the odds, I guess."
Briarwood coach Clayton Parrish also said he was worried about being favored over fifth-seeded Nathanael Greene, and had reason for concern as his team trailed by one midway through the third quarter.
Parrish took his team out of its zone and went to a man-to-man defense, hoping to pick up the intensity.
His plan worked as the Lady Buccaneers rolled off an 18-2 run through the third quarter into the final period before handing the Lady Patriots a 38-27 defeat. Hannah Batrous guided Briarwood in the post, scoring a game-high 15 points.
"Defensive intensity was the key," Parrish said. "I was concerned about being the higher seed with all the pressure. We can relax a little a now, but I wouldn't mind getting as high a seed as we can."
Briarwood will play in the semifinals against No. 1 Gatewood on Thursday at 4 p.m., while Curtis Baptist will take on No. 2 John Hancock, a 68-35 winner over Edmund Burke, at 7 p.m.
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.