MACON - Tears of joy have fallen after nearly every Swainsboro girls basketball victory.
After the Lady Tigers' frantic 36-34 come-from-behind win against Dodge County last weekend in the second round of the Georgia Class AAA state tournament, Nikki Robinson nearly collapsed with emotion. The senior center was crying while being interviewed.
The same thing happened when Swainsboro overcame an 11-point deficit midway through the third quarter of Wednesday's semifinal matchup with Fannin County. Tears fell on the court as players, cheerleaders and parents embraced after the 59-49 win.
While post-game emotions run high, the Lady Tigers' intensity on the court has lagged.
"We showed no emotion in the first half," Robinson said, referring to Wednesday's game when Fannin County took a 26-20 lead at halftime. "We have to play with emotion. That's how we have to play our game."
She said she understands that's how Swainsboro must come out against Northeast-Macon at noon today, when the Lady Tigers battle for the state title at the Macon Centreplex.
Coach Bobby Andrews' squad should have little trouble finding motivation. Northeast (28-3) knocked Swainsboro (31-2) out of the state quarterfinals last year with a 56-38 win, and the Raiderettes took an 11-point victory against the Lady Tigers in the Great Southern Shootout holiday tournament this season.
"That gives us a lot of motivation," junior guard Shayla Roberts said. "We want to do the same thing to them that they did to us last year."
Northeast should put up a fight. It has solid guards - Lakecia James is averaging about 18 points per game - and center Shea Carrington will challenge Swainsboro's Robinson in the paint.
Of more concern to the Lady Tigers, though, is the first-half slumps Roberts has endured recently. In the past three contests, Roberts has hit just five of her first 36 shots.
The junior point guard has confidence that Robinson can get the job done if she can't.
"I know Nikki is there to back me up," Roberts said last weekend after Swainsboro beat Laney in the state quarterfinals. "When I'm off, she's on. When she's off, I'm on."
If both are on their games, and the Lady Tigers come out with intensity, they could exact revenge on Northeast.
"The girls are really emotional," Andrews said. "We were out of the game (against Fannin County), but we show great character and we play with great heart. This just goes to show that when you work hard, good things will happen."
Swainsboro (31-2) vs. Northeast-Macon (28-3)
WHERE: Macon Centreplex (Macon, Ga.)
KEY PLAYERS: Swainsboro-G Shayla Roberts (Jr., 5-7, 18 ppg); C Nikki Robinson (Sr., 6-2, 15 ppg, 12 rpg). Northeast-Macon-F/G Lakecia James (Jr., 5-8, 17 ppg); F Moteak Sanford (Jr., 5-11, 12 ppg); C Shea Carrington (Sr., 6-0 12 ppg)
OUTLOOK: Look for the Raiderettes to throw a junk defense on Swainsboro, perhaps a triangle-and-two that covers Roberts and Robinson. The two teams appear evenly matched. The Lady Tigers might have a more potent offense, but it is offset by Northeast's strong defense.
- Josh Katzowitz
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.