Games in mid-February had become heartbreakingly predictable for Shelby Threlkeld. In two seasons at Lanier she never reached the state tournament. When she transferred to South Forsyth for her junior year, Threlkeld knew that could change. The Lady War Eagles were coming of a 20-win season and a state playoff appearance. She had played with several of South’s players on the Atlanta Cagers AAU team. The school, the team and the season all seemed like the right fit.
So Threlkeld understood the magnitude of South’s game Saturday against rival Lambert in the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament at West Forsyth. The opening round of region tournaments had meant the end of Threlkeld’s seasons for two years. She didn’t want that feeling again.
Threlkeld gave South the first-quarter spark it needed to eventually cruise to a 56-39 victory against the Lady Longhorns. The Lady War Eagles (22-4) secured their second straight state tournament appearance and advanced to the region semifinals against Centennial on Monday.
“This means everything,” Threlkeld said. “Coming from a program that never advanced, it feels awesome.”
While South got its bearings in the first quarter, Threlkeld provided some stability. She grabbed backdoor offensive rebounds that became put-back layups. She drove to the basket for a tough driving lay-up.
South led 12-6 after the first quarter, and Threlkeld had six points.
“My biggest thing is played hard 24/7,” Threlkeld said. “If shots aren’t falling, you can always play hard on defense and wait for the offense come around.”
“Shelby’s a real talented ball player,” South coach Keith Gravitt said. “She’s just been coming on here the last few games. All our players have complete trust in one another, and she put herself in good positions to make plays.”
Threlkeld’s 15 points were crucial as junior starting forward Ally Welch struggled with foul trouble. Sarah Myers had a game-high 19 points.
Corrie Baker led Lambert with nine points, while Leah Cote had eight points and 10 rebounds.
The most critical moment of the game was also its most bizarre. Sarah Myers went to the free throw line after being fouled on a drive. Myers made the first free throw to put South up 20-10. Before she attempted the second, Lambert inserted a substitute but officials called a technical foul on Lambert for a scorebook error. Coaches and officials huddled at the scorer’s table, and soon Lady Longhorns coach Tony Watkins was called for a technical foul.
That tacked on four extra free throws for South. Myers made them all to push the Lady War Eagles’ lead to 24-10 and never looked back.
“We’ve got a big test ahead of us still in the region tournament,” Gravitt said. “But to get [to state] two years in a row is a great accomplishment for these players.”