ROME, Ga. -- Behind a combined 36 points from the Atha sisters, Maggie Beth and Anna Claire, the Darlington Lady Tigers opened the Class A Private State Championship bracket with a dominating 63-28 victory over Brookstone at home Monday night.
"The girls did a great job tonight, I'm proud of them," said Darlington coach Josh Hembree. "It's always great to win a state first-round game. We're excited to be going to the Elite 8."
The Lady Tigers opened the game red-hot, forcing turnovers and running in transition for easy buckets.
With 3:02 remaining in the opening quarter, Darlington took a 16-4 lead behind a combined 13-point effort from the Atha duo, and began to ease their collective foot off the gas.
Never miss a local story.
"When we're playing at a high rate of speed, I feel like the girls make good decisions. It's when we relax a little bit, we get in trouble," said Hembree.
As the Darlington girls slowed down, the Lady Cougars used a 7-0 spurt to close the frame, trailing 16-11. "I think they made shots. They had a couple easy ones that they converted, made that long 3 there at the end (of the quarter)," said Hembree.
"We got complacent moving the ball around the perimeter, and then we had some bad turnovers against them. They made some shots and forced us to attack their zone."
The Lady Tigers sluggish play continued into the second quarter, when Hembree called a timeout with Darlington leading 18-13 at the 5:40 mark.
"Play harder," Hembree told his team during the timeout.
"That's ultimately what it boils down to. We've got to beat people to spots and take away what they want to do."
Darlington turned up its defensive intensity, played big with their arms out and got back to the basics, forcing turnovers in the backcourt.
The Lady Tigers used a 7-2 run to open up their lead and a 9-2 run to put it out of reach to close the half, up 34-17.
"I thought we played a really good first quarter. They hit some shots (in the second quarter), and we didn't capitalize on the other end," said Brookstone coach Glenn Slyvest.
Despite the big lead, Hembree wanted his team to focus on the task at hand, not a potential second-round matchup.
"Keep our foot on the pedal," Hembree told his team at the break.
"I thought we did great job of that in the third quarter. Got some easy steals and buckets in transition. Came out and hit some big shots. We wanted to come out and control the tempo."
Darlington did just that, forcing Brookstone into the shots the Lady Tigers wanted them to take and maintaining control of the contest throughout the second half.
"I think the effort was there. The execution clearly was not.
"That doesn't mean they didn't do what I asked. It just didn't work out. I'm really proud of the season we had," Slyvest said after the game.
"We definitely had our share of ups and downs.
"They bounced back more times than I could ask for, played a tough schedule and I'm just super proud of them."
Brookstone concludes its season 15-13.
For the Lady Tigers (18-8), a trip to Savannah against Calvary Day (23-3) Wednesday night in the second round of the state tournament awaits them.
"We've got to play up to our level and take care of the basketball," said Hembree.
Monday at Darlington
Darlington 16 18 22 7--63
Brookstone 11 6 4 7--28
Maggie Beth Atha 22, Anna Claire Atha 14, Sarah Manning 12, Keara Evans 5, Caroline Hunt 4, Rachel Simon 4, Ashley Edge
Stephens 6, Moore 6, Spitzmiller 5, Thomas 4, Sparks 3, McCluskey 3, Brown 1.