Fayette’s Lady Tigers roll into Elite Eight behind Smith’s 36

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Kayla Smith powered the Lady Tigers with 36 points in round two. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

The Fayette County Lady Tigers have punched their ticket to the Elite 8 for the second year in a row, beating Henry County 61-53 behind a dominant 36-point performance from senior Kayla Smith.
Smith was all over the court in the game, ripping down rebounds, scoring in transition, and relentlessly finding gaps in the defense to finish at the rim. The team remained steady throughout, withstanding a few Henry County rallies before pulling away for the victory.
“They scrambled out some balls, had some shots go down, but we stayed pretty poised. We didn’t panic. That was really good basketball down the stretch there,” said coach Strickland of his team’s performance.
On the play of senior leader Smith, Strickland said it was the product of four years plus of hard work that had shaped her into a winning player.
“She’s excellent. She’s a senior, she’s been with me for some years. Not only the four years here, but before she even got to high school she worked out with me in the summer time. We had a great relationship,” Strickland said. “She told me ‘Coach, I want to win. Let’s go and do that.’ We needed all that tonight. [Henry County] was a good team, and they all get good this time of year.”
Smith opened the game scoring the team’s first six points, starting off with a steal leading to transition layup. She would punish Henry County in transition for much of the game.
The Tigers had an advantage in size and length against Henry County and used to it pressure the ball on defense and make it tough to score. Henry would respond, however, by hitting a lot of three-pointers in a game where the Tigers struggled a bit to shoot from distance for long stretches. That was only a minor problem, however, as they were very effective finding each other in the paint for interior buckets. Maegan Barkley had some great assists including one in the first quarter to Whitney Williams which gave her team a 20-15 lead.
Henry County would take its first lead later in the second quarter after a series of turnovers by Fayette. Strickland called a timeout to settle his team, now down 22-25, before they refocused and went on a run behind a three-pointer from Williams and more buckets by Smith which helped them carry a 31-25 advantage into halftime.
Smith would come out on fire again after the half, this time scoring her team’s first nine points to get to 29 total to match the entire output of Henry County at that point in the third quarter.
Henry County would battle back again to narrow the lead to five points by the end of the third behind some more hot shooting behind the three-point line. They would again battle back to get the score within two with under six minutes to play. Coach Strickland took another timeout with good results, as Darryl Langford came out of the timeout finding Smith with a great pass for a layup as the team seemed to settle down. Henry County managed to narrow the lead to three again before the Tigers were able to seal the win at the free throw line over the last couple minutes of action.
Strickland was proud of his team’s ability to refocus after some shaky stretches and keep attacking.
“That’s what we do. I’ve been in all these games, I’ve been through it a lot of times, and sometimes they need that,” Strickland said. The key is they got the win. “All I look at is did you advance. My whole thing about playoff time, it’s all about advancing. Right now the girls are excited about advancing, and I am too.”
A tough 1-point loss for the McIntosh boys on Saturday left the Lady Tigers as the last Fayette team standing in the state playoffs. They played Monroe on Tuesday night.

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About

Josh Akeman is the managing editor of the Fayette County News, Today in Peachtree City, and East Coweta Journal. He is a graduate of Fayette County High School and the University of Georgia.


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