There are fears entering big games, and Americus-Sumter lived up to Veterans' concerns.
The Panthers got off to a good start, and the Warhawks didn't. The Panthers made shots, the Warhawks didn't. Veterans had to take meticulous care of the ball, and it didn't.
And that led to Americus-Sumter walking off the Macon Coliseum court with the GHSA Class AAA Girls Tournament championship after a 56-38 win Thursday night.
Trailing 32-17 at halftime, the Warhawks blew chances to get back into the game, which at one point in the third quarter was dragged down by 10 straight turnovers.
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Then Americus-Sumter put it away with 10 points on five of seven possessions, while Veterans was amid a nightmare of nine turnovers in 10 possessions.
The margin peaked at 24 in the third quarter and dropped below 20 for most of the fourth quarter, and got down to 14 inside the final minute.
THREE WHO MATTERED
A'tyanna Gaulden: The Florida State-bound guard struggled through a 6-for-17 shooting performance but scored 16 points and had six rebounds and five steals in 20 minutes.
Kya Cochran: Veterans' long-time floor leader led the Warhawks in her finale with 11 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Jykiera Long: The 5-foot-7 sophomore added 12 points for the Panthers and was 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
Breaks and rolls nonexistent: Teams make many of their own breaks, but the Coliseum rims did Veterans no favors. The Warhawks didn't get an abundance of their normal shots, but they missed scores of in-close high percentage shots, occasionally coming up empty after a few shots on one trip. And the Warhawks were off something fierce on normal perimeter shots.
Chances: Veterans will look at missed chances throughout the game and will note getting 25 offensive rebounds and only eight second-chance points. The Warhawks outrebounded the Panthers 41-32.
Scary numbers: The Warhawks made one 3-pointer all night, Audrey Nicholson's in the first quarter. They were 1-for-15 on 3s, for 6.7 percent. And Veterans was a painful 13-for-30 at the free-throw line, 43.3 percent. Americus-Sumter was 23-for-43 overall, 3-for-6 from 3 and 7-for-12 at the free-throw line.
Minus one: Veterans was without guard Racquel James, who had to tell her teammates Wednesday that she wouldn't be playing because of a violation of school cell phone rules that day at lunch. James averaged 4.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
The Warhawks weren't shooting well from anywhere but still only trailed by seven after one quarter. It took nearly three minutes to get their first point of the second quarter. Their first basket came with 1:01 left, cutting the margin to 17.
THEY SAID IT
Veterans head coach Nicki Miranda on trailing 10-0: "Starting off in the first half, we knew they were going to make that first big surge. We weathered the storm somewhat in the first quarter. We really didn't panic."
Miranda on the night-long problem: "What killed us was the missed free throws and missed wide-open layups early. Nerves, timid, tight, whatever word you want to say. As (the Panthers) were hitting everything -- I mean, they hit some unbelievable shots. ... I knew Gaulden was going to get hers. It was the role players. I thought it was going to be a travel call, and all of a sudden, it goes behind the goal and goes in. I'm thinking, 'Oh my goodness.' And then we go down and execute a play perfectly, and we miss the easy bucket."
Miranda on rebounding: "We did a decent job on the boards. We outrebounded them. They didn't get many second shots, they just didn't miss the first one."
Miranda on not being shocked at the rough night shooting: "I was concerned about that going in, because we are an outside-shooting team and they are a penetrating team. I was worried about the outside, the depth, the big arena causing us to struggle a little bit, which we did."