John Strickland is counting on senior leadership as his Fayette County Lady Tigers head into the final weeks of the regular season in their quest for a second state championship in three years.
Seniors Keyondra Jenkins and Annesa Watson were starters on that 2011 squad, and their experience showed Friday night as they led the Lady Tigers on a second-half charge that erased a four-point halftime deficit and resulted in a 60-49 home win in a key Region 5-AAAA game against Sandy Creek.
Fayette County remains unbeaten in the region, while Sandy Creek fell for the second time in region play. Both teams entered the game ranked in the top 10 in the state in AAAA.
Watson led all scorers with 22 points, including 10 in the third quarter as the Lady Tigers opened the second half with a 17-4 run to take a nine-point lead. Jenkins scored 13, nailing five of six foul shots in the game’s final minute to preserve the home team’s lead.
“They take control. Their leadership shows on the court, during timeouts and at halftime,” Strickland said of Jenkins and Watson. “It’s great to have two veterans who understand what our goals are and how to reach them.”
Kayla Smith scored 17 for Fayette County, burying five three-pointers. Sydney Jarmon led the Lady Patriots with 10 points.
Both teams started slowly, with Sandy Creek leading 11-8 after one quarter. Watson’s three from the right wing put the Lady Tigers up 18-5 with 5:30 to go in the second, but two straight baskets by Jarmon ignited a 10-3 run that gave Sandy Creek a 25-21 edge at intermission.
Fayette County came back out of the locker room and scored the first eight points, as Watson hit two baskets plus a free throw and Smith hit a bomb from the right wing. Ciara Hughes’ 10-footer from the baseline gave the Lady Tigers a 38-29 lead with 2:01 to go in the third quarter. After a couple of Sandy Creek scores, Smith launched another three-ball to close out the period with the home team up by seven.
The lead quickly grew to 16 after an 11-2 Fayette County run to open the fourth. Smith hit back-to-back threes to make it a 54-38 game with 4:51 to play. Sandy Creek scored seven straight points to bring the gap back down to single digits at the 3:25 mark, but neither team scored again until the game’s final minute, at which time Fayette County was able to hit free throws and run out the clock.
The Lady Tigers are playing well at the right time entering the final weeks of the regular season, a fact not lost on its head coach.
“That’s what you want,” said Strickland, whose team reached the Elite Eight last season and has been state runner-up twice in the past five years. “We’ve been there before, and we understand what you need to make a playoff run.”
Before the playoffs, however, there is a Feb. 9 rematch with Sandy Creek on the Lady Patriots’ home court.
“You’ve got to win tough games on the road,” said Strickland. “We’ve been pretty good at home, but we’ll have to be ready to play them over there.”
Sandy Creek – 11 14 11 13 – 49
Fayette Co. - 8 13 22 17 – 60
S: Jarmon 10, Walker 9, Street 9, Jones 8, Martin 7, Harris 6.
F: Watson 22, Smith 17, Jenkins 13, Hughes 6, Williams 2.
Halftime: Sandy Creek 25, Fayette Co. 21.