Tiftarea Panthers win third, hold on against SGA

Jan. 12—CHULA — Few coaches can say they have tripled their team's win total from one year to the next. Rob Flick is one of these individuals. His Tiftarea Academy Panthers won their third of 2023-24 Thursday night, holding off a late Southwest Georgia Academy surge to win 64-59.

The Lady Panthers played three strong quarters against visiting SGA, but lost two players to fouls in the 4th quarter and dropped their contest, 63-53.

Tiftarea was scheduled to played at Deerfield-Windsor Friday night.

"This one's good," said Panthers head coach Rob Flick, in his first year of being charge of the boys.

The local boys won only a single game a season ago, but now find themselves eagerly talking about upcoming District 3-AAA games. Their 3-6 record after SGA belied their progress. Three of the losses have been by 10 points or fewer. The Panthers have avenged two of their early-season losses, SGA being one of them.

Flick can see everything coming together. He did have one big request after beating Southwest Georgia, however. "I just want to get a region win," he said. They were 0-1 after falling to Brookwood a week earlier. "It's big to get one ... but we need to get one that matters."

Trailing by a point at halftime — 23-22 — the Panthers were ahead 45-31 heading into the final eight minutes.

The advantage swelled to 18 points at 6:10 on a Ben Smith drive, but then the Warriors flipped a switch. Suddenly everything they threw up went in, especially from behind the arc. Less than minutes after the lead apexed, Colt Williams drained a three and the score was now 53-48.

Then the game got closer.

Elijah Smith scored on an offensive rebound, which SGA countered with Thad Beckley hitting from deep, then going 1-for-2 at the line. That same play fouled out J.R. Walker and the lead narrowed to 55-52 at 1:56.

Fortunately, SGA ran out of gas there.

Elijah Smith made one at the stripe at 1:52, then the Warriors promptly turned the ball over on a double-dribble. Thomas Coogle scored on a nifty assist from Elijah Smith, Whit Jordan delivered a big block. When Elijah Smith scored with 48 seconds remaining, the Panthers were out of danger at 60-52.

One more three from SGA briefly tightened the score with 20 seconds left, but Coogle, steady in the post, held on to a pass until the Warriors fouled him with 10 seconds left. Coogle made both free throw attempts.

The 1st half was very even between the schools.

Elijah Smith scored eight points in three minutes for an 8-4 lead. Free throws from Beckley polished off an 8-0 Warriors run to go ahead 12-10. However, the Panthers tied it in the last second on a flip by Andrew Connell.

Connell was Tiftarea's sharpshooter over the next two quarters, scoring 14 points in the 16 minutes for a career high 16 for the game. Everything Connell touched was magic.

He regained the lead for the Panthers at 15-12, then made another three. Walker came through with a basket for a 20-13 lead at 5:10. Roles reversed for the remained of the half, Southwest Georgia Academy with a 10-2 run over those five minutes, with only Walker free throws in between.

The contest was so close to being tied at the half. Weston Durden was fouled behind the arc with three-tenths of a second on the clock. He missed the first two, but hit the last for the visitors to go into the break up 23-22.

Coogle thundered a block to start the 3rd and Tiftarea was in control again.

They outscored SGA 23-8 in the 3rd, 17 of those points coming from Connell and Elijah Smith. Connell's jumper at 3:12 put Tiftarea ahead 33-23. Four times in the quarter, they were up by 14, first on an Elijah Smith steal and score, then by Connell, Jordan, then Elijah Smith again.

Elijah Smith led the scoring for the Panthers with 22 points. Connell scored his 16, with Ben Smith at 8. Uncharacteristically for Tiftarea, they had a ton of blocks. Coogle, Elijah Smith, Ben Smith and Jordan were among those swatting shots away.

Williams was tops for the Warriors at 20 points. Grayson Cox scored 16 and Banks Mathis added 10.


Tiftarea had its last lead in this contest a minute into the 4th quarter. Down four points in the last minute of the 3rd, the Lady Panthers got a pair of free throws from Elaine Mercer. Amelia Mercer nailed a three to being the 4th, then Kate Coogle made a free shot at 7:09.

Southwest Georgia tied, then went ahead four points courtesy of K.J. Spann. Amelia Mercer pulled the Lady Panthers to within a point at 48-47, but they were down four again within 45 seconds. Elaine Mercer's two at the stripe again were close at 51-49 with 4:35 left, but momentum was no longer theirs.

Charlie Davis' three-pointer put the Lady Warriors up nine, 58-49. Spann pushed it to 12 with a minute to go. Coogle connected for TA's last two baskets the last with six seconds on the clock.

Tiftarea was hot at the start.

Ninety seconds into the contest, Hannah Grace Murphy had eight points, two of her baskets being threes. Elaine Mercer scored in the paint at Tiftarea was ahead 12-2.

SGA had two brief runs in the quarter but, aided by a Lexi Connell block, the Lady Panthers were up 10 again when Connell converted a Coogle assist. Free throws by SGA made it 19-11 after a quarter.

The lead stayed large for five minutes on baskets by Amelia Mercer and Abbi Richter. Isabel Fernandez even threw in a block on a 3-point attempt. The Lady Warriors got again, though. Spann had three 3-pointers, the last putting them up 28-26 with 60 seconds in the half.

The last points, however, went to Tiftarea. Connell began a 6-0 run, with Fernandez and Amelia Mercer contributing. The score was 32-28 at the break.

The sides were never separated by more than four points in the 3rd. Connell gave the Lady Panthers their largest lead of the 2nd half at 34-31. Ashlyn Durden's triple at 1:15 swung momentum to SGA at 42-38.

Amelia Mercer's 14 points paced Tiftarea. Murphy finished at 10 and Coogle at 9.

Durden had 15 points for the Lady Warriors, with Spann at 13 and Ella Ashley at 10.