High School Sports

‘That one failure fueled this whole season.’ Marion County returns to state title game.

Marion County senior forward Ashley Whitley drives to the basket Saturday against Clinch County in the Georgia High School Association Class A public school girls basketball state semifinals at Valdosta State University.
Marion County senior forward Ashley Whitley drives to the basket Saturday against Clinch County in the Georgia High School Association Class A public school girls basketball state semifinals at Valdosta State University. Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

One year after losing in the championship game, the Marion County girls basketball team again is one victory away from notching the program’s first state title.

The fourth-seeded Eagles beat eighth-seeded Clinch County 57-49 Saturday in the Georgia High School Association Class A public school semifinals (Final Four) at Valdosta State University.

They will play in the championship game Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Macon Coliseum against third-seeded Calhoun County, which upset second-seeded Telfair County 46-42 in the other semifinal.

Marion County coach Fran McPherson said the “awesome” feeling of advancing to the final is “even better than before” because the Eagles bounced back from the disappointing way that last season ended, a 73-52 loss to Greenville in the championship game.

“Last year was special because it was the first time we made it there,” she said. “But these kids worked so hard, their attitude is in the right place, and they are just so coachable. … It’s just a fun group, and we’re having a great time.”

They were having a frustrating time in the first half as foul trouble made them too tentative, McPherson said. Although they led 32-28 at halftime, their coach insisted they could play better.

And they did.

“In the second half, we just played our ball,” she said. “We didn’t worry about it (the foul trouble). We just ran our offense and concentrated on defense. We got some big rebounds, and that gave them less possessions.”

Marion never trailed in the second half.

Leading the Eagles were junior guard Jameshia Williams (20 points) and twin senior forwards Ansley Whitley (15 points) and Ashley Whitley (12 points).

After sweeping Greenville in both regular-season games this year (71-70 Dec. 11 at Greenville and 73-63 Jan. 22 at home), the only loss for Marion (27-1) this season was in the region championship game, 70-64 to Greenville. Clinch, however, upset first-seeded Greenville 69-60 in the state quarterfinals (Elite Eight).

Now, the Eagles have beaten the team that beat their nemesis. But the loss to Greenville in last year’s state championship game continues to motivate them.

“That one failure fueled this whole season,” McPherson said. “It was the saddest banquet in the world last year. Everyone was just pitiful. … But they knew what they could achieve, and they did it. I’m just proud of their effort. This team just keeps fighting. They play smart and they keep level-headed.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.


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