ATLANTA - For the second consecutive season, the Hephzibah girls basketball team will make a trip to the GHSA Class AAAA final. This time, the Lady Rebels won't have to play county rival Glenn Hills for a chance at the state crown.
Two hours after Glenn Hills' season came to a close, Hephzibah junior Joycelyn Nelson scored a team-high 17 points, and the Lady Rebels dominated the rebounding statistics to pull away from Ridgeland 64-48 Wednesday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Once the Georgia High Schools Association contest was over, most Hephzibah players agreed: They'd rather face Glenn Hills in the state championship game. But another chance at playing for the title is a nice consolation gift.
The Lady Rebels have their juniors to thank for it.
Third-year point guard Chantal Murray chipped in 14 points, and Joycelyn Nelson and Jacquelyn Nelson combined for 13 rebounds to help the Lady Rebels (29-4) gain a 38-23 advantage on the boards.
"We rebounded well, and their big girl (Ridgeland's India Turner, who scored 17 points) didn't really hurt us too much," said Hephzibah coach Wendell Lofton, whose team also got 10 rebounds from Tiffany Drayton. "No, we didn't shoot well, but we had a lot of hustle tonight."
Especially during the fourth quarter. Leading 41-38 heading into the final period, Hephzibah went on a 13-2 run to pull comfortably ahead.
Although the two squads got physical in the final minutes - the game's officials whistled two double technical fouls - there was little that could get in Hephzibah's way.
"That's what we do," Joycelyn Nelson said. "We get the rebounds, we put the ball back up, and we run the floor."
The plan worked well against the Lady Panthers (26-6), who were 1-for-8 from the field in the fourth quarter.
"We started off by playing their game in the first half," Murray said. "It's always like that for us."
But, Joycelyn added, "We're the never-say-die Hephzibah team."
The Lady Rebels will need that attitude against Mays, which defeated Glenn Hills 36-32 and will play Hephzibah at 3:30 p.m. Friday for the state crown.
"We've done this before," Lofton said. "This is our third time trying for it. Hopefully, the third time for us will be the charm."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216. or firstname.lastname@example.org.