By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SAVANNAH – The South Effingham girls have used the start of the 2022-23 basketball season to settle a few scores.
The Mustangs defeated Dougherty High 50-37 in the first round of the Joe Greene Tournament on Nov. 21 to make the Trojans the third team they beat this season that they lost to a year ago.
And after a 45-32 victory over Chestatee in the two-day tournament at Beach High School in Savannah, SEHS raised its record to 5-0 – the school’s best start in four years.
“Last year, we were 3-0 coming into this tournament and lost both games,” Mustangs coach Alexus Parker said. “It’s been a joy to watch (the girls) grow as a team. They’re playing for each other, that’s the big thing.”
The proof is in the record. South defeated perennial-power Beach High 58-20 and Bryan County (in Pembroke) 71-40, turning 2021 losses into wins with the change of a calendar.
Last season, the Mustangs lost six games by three points or less. Heartbreaking defeats against Dougherty, Beach and Bryan County were half of them.
Maybe the victory over Chestatee – a 21-win team last season – best illustrated SEHS’ improvement. The Mustangs went more than seven minutes without a field goal during the first and second quarters, but weathered the offensive drought by surrendering only three field goals on defense.
Chestatee eventually pulled ahead by four, but SEHS scored the last seven points of the first half and first 10 points of the second half while the Gainesville school went scoreless for 8:16.
Meanwhile, four different Mustangs contributed points during the big run.
In the first half, Shi’Asia House and Kay’Mar Griffin led South in scoring with nine and six points respectively.
In the second half, Laney Dobbs and Zakerria Hall had eight points apiece to lead the Mustangs.
Multiple scorers meant South’s starting guard Elena Hairston could concentrate on defending Chestatee’s high-scorer Riley Black.
“I told Elena (playing good defense) is another way of contributing. Your teammates have your back (on offense),” Parker said.
The Mustangs saw their 15-point third-quarter advantage (37-22) sliced to 37-30 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I think Laney said we used to be known for not finishing,” Parker said. “(In the fourth quarter against Chestatee), we were taking some bad shots. I called a timeout and told the girls, take smarter shots, look to score but in a more controlled way.”
Down the stretch, Dobbs’ two 3-pointers put the finishing touches on the win.
“We went from seven wins (in the 2020-21 season) to 10 last year and now we’re undefeated going into the (Thanksgiving) break,” Parker said. “For the seven seniors, they’re seeing a tremendous progression. It’s like our redemption year.”