QUARTERFINALS PREVIEW: Tift hosts River Ridge Tuesday

Feb. 26—TIFTON — The stakes keep rising for the Tift County Lady Devils. Tuesday night, a trip to the state semifinals is on the line in a clash of the two teams MaxPreps lists as the best in Class 6A.

In one corner are the Lady Devils. In the other are the River Ridge Lady Knights. Not only are the Lady Knights No. 1, they are the defending state champions. Tipoff is 6 p.m. at the The Palace in Tifton. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased in advance on GoFan.

On the line is a bit of history for Tift County, their first final four since 1992. TCHS also made the semis in 1967, finishing in fourth place and old Tifton High finished third in 1955. This is their first elite eight since 2013.

"They're very good," said Lady Devils head coach Julie Conner-Johnson about her opposition from Cherokee County.

Both teams are 25-4 on the season. River Ridge has only lost once to a Georgia school: Wesleyan, who is, as usual, still in the bracket in Class 3A. Teams from Tennessee, Florida and Louisiana make up the rest of River Ridge's losses.

Tift has fallen to Bradwell Institute, Buford, North Forsyth and Veterans on the season. All but Bradwell are still active in their tournaments. Three of the losses are by a combined 12 points.

Each squad is paced by a trio of scorers.

Caitlyn Burgess, averaging 16.7 points per game, surpassed 1,000 career points this year. Jimmya Cushion, at 15.1 per contest, is 12 points away from joining the same club. And there is Jalaya Miller, always coming through in the clutch for the Lady Devils, with 12.7 per game.

It was Miller who lit the spark against Glynn Academy last Friday, scoring in double figures in the 1st quarter and 17 overall.

Conner-Johnson said her team has stepped up in the postseason. "We're peaking at the perfect time."

Both state tournament games have been mercy rules, Glynn Friday and Riverwood in the first round. That success, said Conner-Johnson, is because of "Defense and how they play together."

River Ridge needed overtime to get to the quarterfinals. Tied 53-53 at the end of regulation against New Manchester, they blew away the Lady Jaguars in overtime. They were especially deadly from the free throw stripe.

By herself, Sophia Pearl was 19-of-19 at the line, scoring 26 points. Allie Sweet contributed 22 points and 25 rebounds and Kayla Cleaveland added 13 points.

"They have great players," Conner-Johnson said. "They've been No. 1 in the state all year long." All five starters can score, she said.

But Tift County has something few other teams can match. Not just home court advantage, but a boisterous crowd. She said the Lady Devils wouldn't be here without them.

"We're appreciative of the great crowd support," said Conner-Johnson.

Tuesday's winner will play Saturday at 5 p.m. at West Georgia in Carrollton. Should it be Tift, they would play Pope or Marist.

The other quarterfinals games in Class 6A are Veterans at Langston Hughes and Woodward Academy at North Forsyth.