The Ford E. Phillips Gymnasium erupted as the final buzzer sounded that gave Dawson County High School varsity girls basketball coach Steve Sweat's Lady Tigers a come from behind victory over visiting Decatur.
The Lady Tigers came out on the better end of a 52-47 score. An emotional Sweat could hardly contain his excitement as he hugged assistant coach Anne Hyams on the sideline.
His Lady Tigers fought back from a 15-point second quarter deficit to finally capture the lead on a free throw by Sheyenne Seabolt with 3:33 left in the final quarter. Seabolt converted the second free throw and gave Dawson County a 45-43 lead that the team held on to.
Seabolt finished with a game-high 17 points.
Sweat and his bench jumped for joy when Carly Gilreath found Seabolt wide open for a breakaway lay-up that sealed the game with 1:41 remaining.
Dawson County then spread its offense out in order to force the Lady Bulldogs to foul over the last 90 seconds. The Lady Tigers converted on nine out of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Despite falling behind by double digits early the Lady Tiger defense was superb and allowed Decatur only 27 points at halftime.
Gilreath and senior Kacie Bearden had the task of denying high-scoring Jordan Dillard from Decatur. Dillard had only six points at halftime and only 14 for the game.
Dillard, who will play at Villanova next season, was visibly shaken by the defensive pressure.
It was on offense that Dawson County struggled over the first 16 minutes of play. The Lady Tigers managed only 19 points at halftime and trailed by eight.
"We were down 15 points and I was thinkging ... we have to settle down. I thought our kids had some big game jitters. We just had to too many unforced turnovers in the first half," Sweat said.
The second half was a different story.
After two jump balls by both teams, Seabolt and Karlie Bearden hit three-pointers to close the gap to 27-25. The scores energized the crowd, which seemed to motivate the Lady Tigers.
Allie Costley hit a bucket with 3:51 left in the third to tie the score at 32. Decatur was noticeably rattled and had difficulty getting in any kind of offense.
Decatur continued to fight and edged out to a 42-36 lead at the end of three quarters of play after a basket by Jayla Morrow.
Two consecutive turnovers by Decatur in the fourth quarter led to a rally by Dawson County as the Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Bulldogs 16-5 over the final eight minutes of play to seal the win.
Dawson County outscore the Lady Bulldogs 33-20 in the second half to take the win and a Final Four spot in the Class AAA playoffs.
Five different Lady Tigers hit three-pointers: Kacie Bearden, Karlie Bearden, Gilreath, Hannah Porter and Seabolt.
Up next for Dawson County will be Southwest Macon. Southwest Macon defeated Washington County, 58-47, last night.
Southwest has an overall record of 24-5. The team finished as the champions out of Region 2-AAA.
The game will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday on the campus of Armstrong State in Savannah.
Lady Tiger scorers: Seabolt-17; Gilreath-10; Ashley Parker-6; Karlie Bearden-7; Porter-5; Kacie Bearden-4; Kenna Seitz-1; Costley-4.
"These players are deserving for all the work they have put in this season. I told them it is exciting to get to do what a lot of players don't get to do. It is a great feeling for me. After the game I just kind of looked into the stands kind of looked into the stands at all the people who have supported us over the years. There were mamas up there that I now get the honor of coaching their daughters. What a feeling," Sweat said.