Banks County girls rolling into postseason with momentum

No. 5 Leopards eye another deep run
ajc.com

Credit: Stock/pixapay

Credit: Stock/pixapay

On Tuesday, the No. 5 Banks County Leopards beat Providence Christian 74-30, improving to 21-4, 10-0 in Region 8, and that extended their win streak to 14 games.

The Leopards are undefeated in 2024. Their defeats came in November and December, at holiday events, to 4A’s No. 10 Starr’s Mill, Florida 5A’s No. 7 Fort Walton Beach, Calhoun and Commerce. Their last defeat, which came to Fort Walton Beach on Dec. 28, left them at 7-4. Since then, they’ve looked like the team that finished runners-up last season to Mount Paran Christian.

“Honestly, it’s eerily similar the way our season has started and how it’s going now,” said Leopards seventh-year coach Steven Shedd. “We started a little slow, and one of our top players (starting point guard Allison Hoard) got hurt in our first game and was out 2-3 weeks with an ankle injury. While we weathered that, a lot of players got sick at the top of the new year. So, it’s similar to last year, in a way, because we had players out early on.

“We knew going into the season that we had a chance to be special, because we had a good summer. Until everyone got healthy, we weren’t playing that way. But we have a nice win streak now, and we’re playing ourselves into a high level, like we did last year, including doing the small things.”

The Leopards are closing in on an undefeated Region 8 record for the second straight season, mostly winning by lopsided scores, including 84-43, 78-22, 59-19 and 69-34 in addition to Tuesday’s blowout win. Their only league challenge came from Union County on Jan. 30, when the Leopards won in Blairsville, 51-49 in overtime. The Leopards also beat Union County at home, 71-58 on Jan. 23.

A second straight region championship is within reach, and the Leopards will host the 8-2A tournament, which starts next week.

“I think if we come in and show up like we’re capable, it’s going to come down to us and Union County,” Shedd said. “We beat them twice, but barely the second time. They’re going to be a tough matchup if we see them again in the region tournament. We’re hoping to go into the state playoffs with a No. 1 seed and host, and get into the state championship game, just like last year.”

Senior post Carly Segars leads the Leopards in scoring, averaging 12 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks. Her presence down low has helped to replace Kamryn Grier, an AJC all-state second team selection, and enables the Leopards to use the inside-out game that made them so successful last season. The outside portion is led by senior Hoard (11 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 4.5 steals), the Leopards’ floor general and four-year starter, and sharp-shooting junior twins Reese Murphy and Ryleigh Murphy. Reese averages 11.3 points, a team-high 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals, and Ryleigh averages 10.6 points and two steals.

“We have some size and we’re a little faster this year,” Shedd said. “We can full-court press a lot more, and that’s led to a lot of turnovers from other teams, and it’s led to some of the high-scoring games that we’ve had. Really, the games have been lopsided because of our defense getting turnovers and pushing the ball quickly. We’re just like last year in that we’re balanced. Segars is 6-foot-1, and she can finish under the basket and shoots good from mid-range. Hoard sees the floor well, shoots well and finishes well under the basket, and the Murphy twins can shoot the 3 and finish underneath.

“We’ve got pretty good depth coming off the bench, too. (Junior) Emmie Chitwood, and (freshman) Marleigh Dale and Ella Kate Shedd have stepped, especially after (senior) starter Valentia Torres got hurt three weeks ago.”

One difference between this year and last is that the Leopards have experience in making a deep playoff run. Last year’s trip to the 2A title game was their first since their only other appearance, which came in 1965. To reach the title game, they beat No. 2 Central-Macon in the quarterfinals, and No. 7 Josey in the semifinals, played at Georgia College.

“Just getting to the championship was a feeling of accomplishment for us, because we hadn’t gotten that far,” Shedd said. “We went to the Elite 8 in 2018 (Shedd’s first season), and last year we had to beat the team (Josey) that knocked us out of the playoffs the year before. Josey has a great tradition, so just to beat them was huge, and you just want to pinch yourself when you realize you’re headed to Macon (where the championship is played). So getting there was definitely an intimidating factor for our kids, because we had never been in that college-type atmosphere, with a huge crowd.”

This year, the goal is to hang the program’s first-ever championship banner.

“I’m hoping we get that chance this year, another shot against whoever is there,” Shedd said.

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