Down by four points to the unbeaten South Effingham Lady Mustangs, with less than 90 seconds left, the Effingham County Lady Rebels didn’t panic.
Jakayvea Akins’ layup with 8 seconds left provided the winning margin as the Effingham County Lady Rebels knocked off their in-county rivals 54-52 Saturday night.
With the win, its sixth straight, Effingham County improved to 18-5 overall. The Lady Mustangs, ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA, slipped to 23-1.
"We knew we could it pull out," said Lady Rebels forward Kyesha Lewis, who assisted Akins on the final bucket. "We prepared for them all week. We knew we were going to pull it off."
After Akins scored, South Effingham had a chance to tie the game on its last possession. Tianna Germain was fouled on a 3-point attempt with .6 of a second remaining.
But South Effingham’s leading scorer had her first free throw roll around the rim and out. She made her second try, and she intentionally missed the third, hoping to get a rebound or another foul. The Lady Mustangs were called for a lane violation, and the Lady Rebels inbounded the ball to run out the clock.
South Effingham coach Stacey Womack took the loss in stride, even if it gave the Lady Mustangs the first blemish on what has been the best start in the program’s history.
"I’d rather lose one now than lose in two weeks," she said. "Hopefully, this was a good learning experience for us how to play down the stretch. Regardless of the outcome here, I couldn’t be more proud to coach these girls and what they’ve been able to accomplish so far this year is second to none."
Germain’s drive and scoop layup put the Lady Mustangs ahead 51-47 with only 1:17 to go in the game. The Lady Rebels, who had used the pick-and-roll effectively, ran what coach Curtis Stevens called a pick-and-pop — and Brooke Fowler popped a 3-pointer off the play, sending the overflow crowd into an uproar.
"Brooke made a big shot," Stevens said. "That was probably the play of the game."
The play was a variation of the pick-and-roll the Lady Rebels had used earlier in the game with great success. Stevens called the set to offset 6-foot-2 South Effingham freshman center Shae Leverett.
"Shae Leverett is a great player. She was taking control of the game," Stevens said. "We thought if we could get her away from the basket and guard the pick-and-roll, that would be something we could have success with. I thought we executed that well."
There were three ties and three lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. Lewis’ layup with 5 seconds left in the third quarter capped a 7-0 run to end that period that brought the Lady Rebels within 38-37.
"This team has really come a long way, and I think it started last year, losing a lot of one-point games early," Stevens said. "And then we won some close games late last season."
Effingham also went to 9-0 at home for the season — and keeping that intact against an archrival was just fine with the Lady Rebels.
"We want to have the attitude that no one comes into our home to beat us, especially when you have two good teams going at it," Stevens said. "I think Stacey did a great job; it was just a great high school basketball game, and I’m glad we came out on top."
Even with the teams combining for 40 wins coming into the game, the last meeting of the year between the two rivals was fuel enough.
"The best thing about rival games is you don’t need extra motivation," Stevens said. "They want to beat each other. They were up for it, no question."
Said Womack: "This game is always a game of high emotions. You never know how it’s going to come out. Give credit to Effingham — they wouldn’t go away. They played a great game."
Eboni Hicklen scored with 26 seconds left, giving Effingham the lead again at 52-51. Germain lost control of the ball on a drive to the basket, and the Lady Mustangs lost possession as the ball went out of bounds.
Leverett’s putback gave South Effingham a 38-30 lead, its biggest margin of the second half. She finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
"She came to play tonight," Womack said. "She’s really, really made a big difference for us inside. We’re going to have to have that from her down the stretch."
A 12-2 spurt in the second quarter gave South Effingham its biggest lead of the night, 25-16. Germain’s pull-up 3 and fallaway jumper after getting a steal at midcourt ended the run.
Leverett’s three-point play off an offensive rebound and another putback ended a 7-0 run that brought the first quarter to a close and tied the game at 12-12.
Lewis topped Effingham with 16 points, while Fowler, Hicklen and Aliyah Williams each had nine points. Akins had eight points, and Maddie Evans finished with five points. Hicklen also was tasked most of the night with guarding Germain.
"But across the board, Kyesha made plays, Eboni played great defense," Stevens said. "Whatever success we achieve is because we play team offense and team defense. They have stepped up and played as one. They count on each other, and they pull for each other."
Hannah Anderson had 10 points and 10 rebounds for South Effingham, while Germain added 11 points. Germain also had five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Ta’Keia Marshall had seven points, Amy Jameson added four points and Cate Anderson had two points.