FORT VALLEY -- The revenge of the heartbreaking loss of a year earlier, after not trailing until the final seconds, appeared to have been taken care of two days earlier.
But suddenly, the ghost of Carrollton 2015 made an appearance at Fort Valley State.
Veterans was in control, leading by 14 at halftime and a minute into the third quarter. And then all of a sudden, Wayne County, which had three points at halftime, tied the game with 1:25 left, the Warhawks suffering through a long scoreless slump.
But Kya Cochran answered with a driving score nine seconds later, and Carrington Kee added two free throws with 44.8 seconds left as Veterans survived Wayne County 28-24 in a GHSA Class AAAA Tournament semifinal.
The Warhawks will play Buford or Americus-Sumter for the state title at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Macon Coliseum.
The Carrollton ghost included two remarkable Wayne County buckets down the stretch, one frighteningly similar to the off-balance game-winner of Alecia North last year. But they came with too much time left, and Veterans, which went scoreless from the 50-second mark of the third quarter until Cochran's score with 1:14 left, was able to finish.
Wayne County was tentative throughout the first half against Veterans' zone, simply passing around the perimeter and failing to attack. The Warhawks were decent but still only had 17 first-half points. The lead was 14 after a Morgan Riley free throw with a little more than three minutes left in the third.
The Warhawks turned the ball over five times on the first six possessions of the fourth quarter and were scoreless on nine straight trips.
FOUR WHO MATTERED
Kee: The Veterans senior plays the point when Cochran takes a break and is one of the Warhawks' outside threats. She had only five points but hit the two clinching free throws with 44.8 seconds left and played atop the Veterans zone that Wayne County had so much trouble with.
Tania Ward: The senior guard led all scorers with 11 and had seven rebounds for Wayne County.
Cochran: She had only six points and four assists on a night when the Warhawks struggled, but she also was pesky on defense in keeping the Yellow Jackets from having clear passing lanes against the zone.
Amani Trice: The senior was really the Carrollton ghost with a no-look flip for a score in the fourth quarter that pulled the Yellow Jackets within 24-22 with 3:40 left.
Ouch: The Warhawks lost forward Janna Aultman for virtually the whole game inside the first minute with what head coach Nicki Miranda called a subluxed shoulder. Then Ebony Allen took a shot to the nose with 2:27 left in the third quarter. Both returned, Aultman for only about a minute.
A desert: The droughts for Veterans were many. The Warhawks went scoreless in the first half for three, two, two and four minutes, two minutes and 2:20 in the third quarter and the first 6:46 of the fourth quarter.
Good and bad: The 24 points marked Wayne County's lowest total of the season, by three (vs. Class AAAAAA Camden County in December) and the fourth-lowest total by a Veterans opponent. On the other hand, it was the Warhawks' lowest total of the year, by six points and lowest since a 35-27 loss to Howard on Jan. 20, 2012.
THEY SAID IT
Veterans senior wing Anna Nicholson on rating the ugliness of the win: "(Ugliest) ever. That was hands down the ugliest win we have ever pulled out. But a win is a win is a win."
Kee on the Warhawks' struggles: "I wouldn't say we were nervous. We made some bad decisions. I don't know what was going on, I really don't."
Miranda on a key aspect: "(Wayne County) had a lot of intensity. They got a lot of loose balls down the strength. Morgan (Riley) diving and getting that ball (with 23 seconds left) even though she didn't convert on the free throw, that was a big hustle play. We hadn't been getting those."
Nicholson on thinking back to the loss in 2015: "Just like last year, we got lulled to sleep and down to an over-the-shoulder layup, just like last year. Well, last year, there was a travel involved. But I was like, 'My God, this is just like last year.' "
Miranda on lost opportunities Veterans survived: "The second quarter, we missed layups and layups and wide open looks. We didn't take care of business, or we could have gotten a huge lead."
Veterans plays Americus-Sumter at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Coliseum in the championship.