December 2, 2020

Lady Braves survive OT thriller to make Sweet 16

(Franklin, GA) — The Lady Braves came back from a nine point second half deficit to defeat the visiting Pepperell Dragons 42-40 in overtime Friday night in front of a raucous overflow crowd in the Heard County High School gym.

It was the second straight season the team needed to scrap and claw for all 32 minutes to survive a first round scare by a gutsy and scrappy No. 4 seed from north Georgia. The ladies advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

After jumping out to a 13-4 lead after a quarter, the Dragons responded with a huge 26-8 run to take the lead.

The Lady Braves trailed by as many as nine points in the third quarter and by eight early in the fourth quarter before a fiery comeback late in the game.

A big bucket from Hannah Sanders closed the gap to 34-31 with 4:53 to play, but the senior was injured on the play and had to be helped off the court with an ankle injury. After getting taped up, the hard-nosed senior forward would return minutes later to help her team survive.

Junior Emily Iddins connected on four crucial free throws to give the Lady Braves a 35-34 lead with about two minutes to play in regulation.

Senior Kimberly Harris was able to drop in a shot a the buzzer to send the game into overtime sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy.

All five points from the Lady Braves in OT came via the foul line. After a big 3-point basket by the Dragons to knot the contest at 40-40 with 2:01 to play in overtime, sophomore Haley Bennett sank two huge free throws with 1:14 to play to seal the two point 42-40 victory.

Harris led the Lady Braves in scoring with 14 followed by Sage Kelley with eight, Sanders with six, Ally Harris with five, and Emily Iddins with four.

Senior Jess Bulkhalter led the Dragons with 12 points and junior Grace Hufford had 11.

Lady Brave head coach Helen Akins was pleased with the tenacity shown by her girls to ‘survive and advance,’ always the team’s motto during the playoffs.

“Survive and advance that’s what this is all about — you just never know the level of each region and how good the No. 1’s versus No. 4’s are — Pepperell came out and played a really good ballgame tonight,” said Akins after the win. “We had several girls battling sickness this week including Kimberly Harris, but she came up big and tied the game for us down there late. I am really proud of her.”

“I’m also really proud of our defense tonight. When Hannah was hurt, Emily Iddins came into the game and did a great job driving and drawing some fouls and she stole the ball when we went into a half-court trap. And of course Sage was steady for us as always on both ends,” added Akins.

Sanders was able to pull down a big rebound in overtime and her being able to get back in the game and tough it out was big for a squad that lacks size on the inside.

“Hannah rebounds — that’s her job,” says Akins. “She’s a rebounder and you can always count on her on the boards. She was big for us tonight.”

Akins also thinks the huge showing in the stands by the Brave Nation the last two weeks has been an integral part of the team’s success.

“It’s just unbelievable to see these kids coming out and all these parents coming out to see us play. The support has just been awesome and we are so thankful. We will need these fans more and more as these games get bigger and bigger.”

The Lady Braves (21-6) will be underdogs in round two when the Dodge County Indians (25-3) come to town next week. The Indians (No. 2 seed, Region 3-AA) defeated Early County 70-51 Friday night and are currently ranked No. 3 in Class AA by Score Atlanta. The Lady Braves are ranked No. 10.

The Sweet 16 game will be played Wednesday at 6:00 PM in Franklin.

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