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Georgiana avenges predecessors with thrilling win over Jaguars

Kirk Norris had a difficult time sleeping Thursday night, but it was for the best possible reason.

The Georgiana head basketball coach had just witnessed perhaps the closest game his 22-2 Panthers had seen in several years.

And it all came down to a single point as Georgiana’s Torey Rudolph sank a miraculous and-one with barely a handful of seconds remaining in a down-to-the-wire match against the Jaguars of Hillcrest-Evergreen–very nearly the same Jaguars that gave the Panthers their sole regular season loss of 2016 on the road.

The completion of the 3-point play and the subsequent Georgiana lead caused R.L. Gymnasium to erupt.  For Norris, the excitement took far longer than a ride home to subside.

Though the Panthers controlled the pace for the majority of the end stretch, a slew of turnovers and a Jaguars rally gave Hillcrest a sizeable advantage with two minutes remaining in the game.

But with just 17 seconds left, a pair of free throws from DeAarion Squaire set up the Panthers for a narrow comeback.

“The final seconds or so were pretty exciting,” Norris said.

“Neither one of us had any timeouts left, so it’s not really a situation you can talk over with your kids. It was a fun atmosphere with a lot of lead changes, especially in the first quarter.”

Norris added that the Jaguars looked just as strong as last year’s team, which made it very deep in last year’s playoff bracket, losing only to Pike County.

“They changed coaches, so they had a different style of play last year,” Norris said. “But I thought they were as good as, or better than, last year’s team.

“Their main guys were back from last year, so we knew it would be a tough game going in. But I think playing at home helps a lot with that.  Most teams tend to play better in their home environment.

The No. 5 seed Jaguars and the No. 2 seed Panthers made for a matchup to watch despite having zero stakes as far as playoff contention goes, but the game proved a vitally important experience for the Panthers nonetheless.

“It’s huge, because it’s learning how to win in a close game, even when you make a few mistakes toward the end that could cost you.

“You always believe there’s a chance you can win, and that’s the biggest thing.  When you hit this time of year, anything can happen, and the further you go the better the teams you’ll run into.

“That experience, and the mental side of it, help being able to handle those close-game situations.

As both the varsity boys and girls were named area champions, Georgiana will host the area tournament beginning next Monday at R.L Austin Gymnasium.

The action will begin on Monday as the Red Level and McKenzie girls varsity teams meet in the first round of the Class 1A Area 3 tournament at 5:30 p.m.

The winner of that contest will play Georgiana Tuesday at 6 p.m, and the winner of that game will play in the championship round against the winner of Highland Home and Brantley (who play Tuesday at 3 p.m.) on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Action starts for the boys on Monday as McKenzie and Highland Home square off for the right to face Georgiana.  The Tigers and the Flying Squadron will play on Monday at 7 p.m.

The winner of that game will advance to face Georgiana on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Brantley and Red Level will also play Tuesday, but at 4:30 p.m.

The winners of the semi-final matches will face off in the area championship game on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

The winners will be crowned area champions, and will earn a trip to the regional tournament in Dothan.