Archer’s Autumn Newby (24) takes a jump shot against Lowndes County’s Faith Starling (13) during the girls Class AAAAAA Semifinals game at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Archer defeated Lowndes County 78-67. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
ATLANTA — With just two seniors in the nine-player rotation, it would have been easy for an outsider to project the Archer girls as a year away from serious state title contention.
The Tigers, though, always felt otherwise.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would be right here,” Madison Newby said.
Archer, in just its fifth year, is only one victory away from the Class AAAAAA state championship thanks to the junior point guard, her freshman sister and a cool confidence seemingly beyond its years.
The Newby sisters combined for 48 points and the Tigers (29-3) pulled away in the second half to defeat Lowndes 78-67 in the Class AAAAAA semifinals Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavillion.
“We’ve been talking about it since our first practice back in June,” Archer coach Ryan Lesniak said. “We truly believed we could do this.”
Next up is a date next Saturday in Macon against nationally ranked McEachern, the heavy favorite to claim the state title since before the start of the season.
McEachern (27-2) routed South Forysth 64-27 in the second semifinal game, surely giving Archer an idea of just how good the Indians are if it wasn’t known previously.
The Tigers, though, certainly have plenty going for them as well.
Madison Newby had 29 points and five assists, while 6-foot-2 sister Amber, 18 months younger, contributed 19 points and 15 rebounds.
“We have chemistry as sisters and we carry it over to the court,” Madison said. “It’s easy to play together.”
Archer had to overcome a 31-point game from Lowndes standout Tashia Brown, who scored 18 in the first half.
Lesniak changed up things defensively in the second half and was better able to control the Western Kentucky signee thanks to the effort of senior softball standout Alesha Mann.
“Mann did a great job of face-guarding her and not letting her get the ball,” Lesniak said.
Archer, which plays three freshman, would have had an easier time if had been able to hit its free throws. The Tigers had 42 attempts in the foul-marred game, but made just 25.
Amber Skidgel, a junior transfer from Hebron Christian, scored 10 points for Archer and senior Kayla Rogers hit two 3-pointers, becoming the third Archer player to reach 1,000 points for her career.
Lowndes (22-9) led 19-11 at the end of the first quarter, but Archer ran off 11 straight points and increased its lead to 27-21 midway in the second quarter.
Brown, who had gone to the bench with three fouls early in the period, scored eight straight points, however, to put Lowndes back ahead before Archer went on a 6-0 run to lead 33-30 at halftime.
Brown hit four of her five 3-pointers en route to 18 first-half points, 10 coming in the first quarter. Madison Newby had 12 points at the break for Archer, eight of them in the second quarter.
Autumn Newby had eight points in the third quarter and Skidgel added seven as Archer went up 55-45 at the end of the period on Rogers’ 3-pointer.
Region 8 champion Archer, playing its seventh game in 13 days, led by 14 points four times in the fourth quarter and Region 1 winner Lowndes could never get the lead under nine points.
It was the fourth time in the semifinals for Lowndes since the Vikings won four straight state titles in 1977 through 1980. They have lost all four times.
Archer, meanwhile, went from four victories in its first season to a state tournament berth in its third and trip to the Sweet 16 in its fourth. Now, the Tigers are in the state championship game.
“We’ve come a long way in a short,” Madison Newby said. “But we aren’t done yet.”