The Salem girls varsity basketball team saw its 21-game win streak snapped Wednesday night in the Region 8-AAAAA title contest, falling 38-35 to Clarke Central.
The loss was the first for the Lady Seminoles since a Nov. 11 defeat to Columbia as Salem struggled for the second night in a row without point guard Shay Tarver in the starting line-up.
Salem survived a 39-36 overtime regional semifinal win over Loganville Tuesday, but couldn’t muster another close victory for their second consecutive region title.
Despite 16 points and 15 rebounds from junior Ayanna Mitchell, and a 7-of-9 performance from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, Salem was unable to dig itself out of a six-point halftime deficit after turning the ball over 14 times in the opening half.
Trailing by five entering the fourth quarter, Salem trimmed the Lady Gladiators’ lead to a single possession three times in the final period, cutting Clarke Central’s advantage to 27-24 on a pair of Taylor King free throws.
The Lady Gladiators answered with a 3-pointer from the right wing from Addie McNeely with 3:46 to go, but Jennifer Tindi and Mitchell scored twice inside to bring Clarke Central’s lead back to five.
Mitchell scored again in the paint and trimmed the lead to 35-31 with 1:05 left in the contest with a successful free throw attempt, but McNeely knocked down her second 3-pointer of the quarter with 41 seconds remaining, extending Clarke Central’s lead to 38-31.
Mitchell found the bottom of the net on Salem’s ensuing possession with five seconds remaining and Clarke Central missed a one-and-one attempt with 2.8 seconds to go that could have sealed the win. Mitchell grabbed the rebound and heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer, but the junior’s shot missed its mark, giving Clarke Central the three-point win and region championship.
Salem trailed 17-11 at halftime, ending a 10-minute scoreless streak with 5:46 left in the third on a Tindi layup.
Tarver entered the contest for the first time with 2:37 to go, hitting a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left in the period to send Salem down five into the fourth.
The Lady Seminoles failed to score from the floor in the second quarter, totaling just two points in the period at the free-throw line after carrying a 9-7 advantage into the final eight minutes of the first half. Mitchell scored both of Salem’s points at the line and Clarke Central ended the half on an 8-0 run, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers from Jasmin Bell and Fredricka Sheats for a six-point halftime lead.
Salem uncharacteristically turned the ball over eight times in the period, as the Lady Seminoles tried to find their footing without Tarver in the first half.
The first quarter saw plenty of back-and-forth scoring, with Salem eventually taking a two-point lead behind three points each from Mitchell and King.
Tarver hit the Lady Seminoles’ lone 3-pointer of the night, while the Lady Gladiators knocked down four treys.
Markia Lester led the Lady Gladiators with 11 points, while King finished with nine. Tindi closed her night with seven points and 15 rebounds.
Salem returns to action Friday in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state tournament at home against Mays.
Friday’s game time has not yet been set.
The Lady Seminoles reached the Region 8-AAAAA title game with a 39-36 overtime victory over host Loganville Tuesday night, using 18 from Mitchell points to get past the Lady Red Devils.
King added 13 points in the win and Salem held Loganville scoreless in the extra period after a 36-36 tie in regulation.
Salem led by 11 with 6:29 left in the fourth period, but failed to score again while the Lady Devils rallied from behind the 2-point line. Loganville’s Bethany Bowers knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final 90 second of the game and a late Salem turnover turned into a Haley Rink game-tying triple on the other end.
Loganville held a 15-11 lead in the second quarter before Salem went on a 14-0 run.