Lady Blue Devils face Woodland-Henry on Saturday
By JOSEPH MYERS
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
The Columbus Lady Devils basketball team is a hard-to-rattle bunch.
They didn't panic when Columbia jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first half of their Class AAAA state quarterfinal Wednesday night at Columbus High. After all, it was the second straight state tournament game in which Columbus fell behind by double digits early.
Wednesday's game ended up with the same result, as Columbus (29-1) used a big fourth quarter to complete its comeback and knock off Columbia, 61-52, to advance to the final four for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
"This is such a blessing," said Columbus coach Joe Cherrone, whose team outscored Columbia 23-11 in the final eight minutes. "These girls have put in so much hard work. They really deserve it. No team deserves it more than they do. They put in the work, both on the court and in the classroom."
Columbus now faces Woodland-Henry in the state semifinals Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at West Geor
gia in Carrollton. Woodland-Henry advanced by edging Cross Creek, 68-66, Wednesday night in Stockbridge.
Columbia (16-6) used 17 first-half points from Yaktavia Hickson to build a 30-21 halftime lead over Columbus.
"You have to remember, this team was down 20-4 in the first quarter of the region championship and came back to win in overtime," Cherrone said of his team. "These girls never quit. They just continue to fight and believe in each other."
Columbus -- which has won 19 straight games -- started its comeback early in the third quarter, going on a 12-4 run to start the period to get within 1, 34-33, with 4:06 to go. The Lady Devils tied the game at 38 on a basket by Alexia Manning, but a 3-pointer by Hickson at the buzzer sent Columbia into the fourth quarter with a 41-38 advantage.
Even though the Lady Eagles held the lead, Columbus had the momentum and the Lady Devils kept coming in the fourth quarter.
A three-point play by Anyah Copeland tied the game at 43 with 6:03 remaining and the Lady Devils' defense went into lockdown mode, holding Columbia scoreless for the next 4:26.
By the time the Lady Eagles scored again, Columbus had take a 48-43 lead with 2:28 to go. Copeland had six points during the burst and Jazmyn McIntosh, who spent most of the second half trying to slow down Hickson, had the other basket.
Jacqueria Gunter, who scored 15 points in the second half, took things from there for Columbus, making a basket and hitting 6-of-6 free throws in the final 50 seconds as the Lady Devils never let Columbia get closer than four points in the final two-plus minutes.
"In the second half, (Gunter) came out and played like she's supposed to," Cherrone said. "She really showed up. We also got some big plays inside (from Copeland), too. I told the girls once we got the lead, we weren't going to give it back."
Gunter led the Lady Devils' offense with 18 points, followed by Manning and Copeland, who had 14 points apiece.
Wednesday at Columbus High
Columbia 16 14 11 11--52
Columbus 7 14 17 23--61
Williams 3, Yaktavia Hickson 28, Harris 2, Smith 8, Silavong 2, Felton 2, Nowell 7. Totals 21 8-18 52.
Jacqueria Gunter 18, McIntosh 6, Wyatt 5, Lloyd 4, Alexia Manning 14, Anyah Copeland 14. Totals 17 23-35 61.
Records: Columbia 16-6, Columbus 29-1; Next: Columbus vs. Woodland-Henry, at West Georgia, Saturday at 6:30 p.m.