Tiftarea breaks streaks in Valwood sweep

Jan. 17—CHULA — Tiftarea Academy basketball teams each won their first GIAA District 3-AAA games Tuesday evening, victories that broke a long drought for each team in a different way.

For the Lady Panthers, who overwhelmed Valwood 65-26, it was their first win of any type since December. They are now 3-10 for the season. The 68-61 triumph for Tiftarea against the Valwood boys was their first in district competition since Feb. 11, 2022, also against Valwood.

Tiftarea is scheduled to play Georgia Christian Thursday in non-district matches Thursday before conference contests at home Friday against Brookwood. The Panthers have not won two district contests in a regular season since 2018-19.


The Panthers were ahead 52-41 through three quarters, but Valwood opened the 4th with a surge.

Triston White capped a 13-2 run for the Valiants on a three-point play at 4:29, when he was fouled on a made basket. Tied 54-54 with the free throw, Tiftarea went ahead by two on a J.R. Walker shot.

After the teams traded free throws, White retied it at 57-all with two more from the stripe, a play that fouled out Walker. At 2:20, momentum seemed to have fully settled with Valwood when Richard Hunter's bucket gave them a 59-57 lead, their first since late in the 1st period.

Thomas Coogle and Ben Smith evened the count at 59, then the tide turned again.

Andrew Connell buried a 3-pointer at 1:34 for a 62-59 Tiftarea advantage. Seconds later, Smith made it a four-point lead at the line.

The Valiants had a chance to make it a one-possession game again at 1:12, but missed both free throws. Tiftarea reeled in the rebound and fired downcourt. There Whit Jordan stood near the bench. Though head coach Rob Flick said he was silently begging Jordan not to shoot, Jordan did, and it hit nothing but net in the cylinder at 1:03.

Valwood couldn't dent the 66-59 lead and though the Panthers were only 2-of-6 at the line over the last 45 seconds, it was too last for the visitors.

Coogle scored six of the Panthers' 16 in the 1st frame, a back-and-forth eight minutes that saw Tiftarea up 7-2 on a Connell triple. Valwood scored the next six and went ahed 8-7 courtesy of Conner Hutto. Cort Kurrie free throws expanded that to 12-9 at1:29, shockingly Valwood's largest lead of the night.

Jordan had a three-point play after the Panthers regained the lead, with a Jack Morris free throw pulling the Valiants to 16-14 at quarter's end.

The Smith brothers did most of the damage in the 2nd period, one that saw the Panthers on the verge of pulling away but stifled by a barrage of Morris makes from behind the arc.

Ben Smith scored six and Elijah Smith netted five in the frame. Jordan knocked down a three for TA's biggest lead of the half, 29-22. Morris halved that on his fourth three of the half with 49 seconds to go. The Panthers settled for a four-point lead at intermission, 32-28. The final seconds saw a triple from Elijah Smith and free throws from Hutto.

Flick said he switched defenses at the half to try to contain Morris, mostly sticking Connell on him. The strategy worked. Morris had 13 in the 1st half, but none after the break.

Tiftarea mostly lived in the paint in the 3rd, either driving with Elijah Smith or the guards finding Walker and Coogle open in the post. The lead hovered around seven points for four minutes before Coogle pushed it to 10 (49-39) on a three-point play.

Held without a basket from the field for the last 3:41 of the period, the Valiants saw themselves in a 52-41 hole to begin the 4th.

Four players scored for the Valiants during the 13-2 run to open the 4th. White had five points and Chase Helfter had four.

Despite being shutout in the 2nd half, Morris led the way for Valwood with 13 points. Helfer and White each scored 11.

Elijah Smith netted a game-high 18 points for the Panthers, who picked up their fourth win of 2023-24. Coogle added 15 and Jordan hit for 11.


Valwood actually dented the scoreboard first, a three by Emma Burnett in the first minute of the game. It was all Tiftarea afterwards, however.

The Lady Panthers scored 14 straight points over the next four minutes, all coming from Amelia Mercer, Isabel Fernandez and Kate Coogle. This extended to a 23-1 streak before Bella Shaw hit a bank shot triple. A technical foul against Tiftarea gave Valwood another small opening, though they trailed 25-10 at the end of the period.

Burnett began the 2nd with points for the Lady Valiants, then Tiftarea exploded again. This time it was a 10-2 stretch over three minutes, capped by a reverse layup from Elaine Mercer to make it 35-14.

Amelia Mercer hit another from behind the arc and the Lady Panthers began heavily subbing. A drive by Amelia Mercer with 20 seconds left in the half stretched the lead to 25 points, 42-17.

Subs played most of Tiftarea's minutes in the 2nd half, as the team was firmly into mercy rule territory when Coogle's put-back made it 50-17.

Caylee Collins made Valwood's only points of the 3rd. The Shoultz twins each scored to end the 3rd, Maci Shoultz with a basket and Madi Shoultz's free throw extending the lead to 60-20.

Tiiftarea's lead peaked at 65-22, a drive by McKenna Grace Graham. The Lady Valiants scored the last four points of the evening, Burnett with a three from the top of the key and a free throw by Anna Harvey Shaw.

Amelia Mercer led the way with 18 points. Coogle netted 13 and Lexi Connell scored 10 points. All three did all of their scoring in three quarters. Collins scored 9 for Valwood with Burnett at 8.