Jonesboro shows resolve in region title repeat

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro point guard Victoria Florence averaged almost 20 points per game throughout the Region 4-AAAA tournament. Her steady play helped the Lady Cardinals repeat as champions.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro point guard Victoria Florence averaged almost 20 points per game throughout the Region 4-AAAA tournament. Her steady play helped the Lady Cardinals repeat as champions.

STOCKBRIDGE – Victoria Florence wanted the ball.

Teammate Ashley Hand had it at the top of the key, beyond the three point line, looking for someone to pass it too. Florence beckoned for it – first with her hand, then with her voice.

Hand tossed it to her on the left elbow, Florence launched and drained a three that gave Jonesboro its largest lead in the game at nine early in the fourth quarter.

But she wasn’t done. After a Briana Benson steal, Florence spotted up again. Three ball again.

It accentuated a 12-2 run that turned a three point ball game late in the third quarter to a 12-point Lady Cardinals lead in the fourth en route to a 64-56 win over Woodland Saturday to capture the Region 4-AAAA crown for the second straight season.

Florence, who scored 14 in the win and averaged 18.3 points in three tournament games, said she was only responding to what she knew her team needed from her.

“I knew I had to step up tonight as a leader on this team,” Florence said. “We had to come together tonight and fight through the adversity to get this done.”

The adversity Florence was speaking of happened early on with Jonesboro leading 7-3 with just under 2 ½ minutes remaining in the first quarter. Lady Cardinals coach Lamar Harris protested a foul called against Jonesboro and received a technical foul which sent Lindsey Reed to the line to shoot three free throws.

On Woodland’s very next possession, another foul was charged against Jonesboro, much to the chagrin of the Cardinal faithful, and this time Harris’ protest caused him to be ejected from the game from being charged with a second technical foul.

By the time Reed got through sinking free throws, the Lady Wolfpack took a 13-7 first quarter lead before settling for a 16-14 by the end of the period.

Credit assistant coach Jordan Greenleaf – who took over after Harris’ dismissal – for helping to keep the Lady Cardinals calm and focused.

“I just told them to relax. There were a lot of emotions and moods involved, and I just told them to keep their emotions out of the game and just play,” Greenleaf said.”

Florence, a senior point guard, was also a part of Jonesboro’s calming influence.

“I said to everybody that we’ve got to come together right now,” said Florence of the moment right after Harris left the court. “I told them that Coach Harris wouldn’t want us falling apart right now and that it was time for us to get it together and play.”

The impromptu pep talks seemed to work, as whatever advantage Woodland had after the technical foul shots seemed to slowly fade away, thanks to a steady diet of Benson and senior center Kimberly Dawkins.

Benson scored nine of her team-high 19 points in the momentum-shifting second quarter, and the Cardinals repeatedly pounded the ball inside to Dawkins who made several nifty post moves to score over and around Woodland’s 6-foot-3 Nicole Findura.

It was a strategy that Jonesboro didn’t show much of during the tournament, but one that Greenleaf felt they could execute successfully.

“We wanted to work the two-man game a bit down low, and Kim was getting a lot of good looks and good inside movement down there,” Greenleaf said. “It worked well for us.”

So well that it helped give Jonesboro a 34-33 lead going into halftime.

Dawkins continued her strong presence in the paint with a quick bucket and two made free throws to open the third quarter and set the stage for that deciding run. When Woodland’s Aalyiah Dotson cut Jonesboro’s lead to 41-38 with 2:23 to go in the third, it would be the Lady Wolfpack’s next-to-last field goal until the 5:23 mark in the fourth.

Jonesboro’s 1-3-1 zone defense stymied Woodland’s perimeter game and left coach Ashley Maddox scrambling to counter it.

“They threw something at us with that 1-3-1 that we hadn’t really seen a lot of this year,” Maddox said. “They also slowed the tempo down on us. And that’s something we never would’ve thought they’d do. That was a good halftime adjustment for them.”

Jonesboro (24-3) built its lead to as much as 15 before settling for the final tally. The loss avenged an earlier 57-50 loss to Woodland earlier in the season. It also halted Woodland’s school record winning streak to 25 while giving the Cardinals their 20th straight win.

Maddox said his team was heartbroken but resolute.

“A lot of tears and emotions back there in that locker room,” he said. “They wanted this one bad. But I’m super proud of the way they played. Sometimes shots just don’t fall your way and you’ve got to live with it. We’ll get back to normal next week and adjust.”

Woodland (24-2) was led Reed’s game-high 24 points, with Care Bacon chipping in with 11. Jonesboro was helped by Dawkins’ 10 points and seven from senior guard Raven Wynn.