MACON — Today’s Class AA title game between No. 1 Buford and No. 2 Model epitomizes what a state championship should be: the two best teams battling.
Model (31-0) comes in looking to preserve its unbeaten season, but reeling from the loss of leading scorer Janaye Jasper in Thursday’s 62-50 semifinal win over Henry County.
Jasper was three points, one assist, one steal and one rebound into the semifinal game when she went down with a season-ending leg injury in the first quarter.
The 5-foot-11 junior was averaging 15 points per game for the Lady Blue Devils.
“Any time you see a player get hurt you feel for them,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We would never see a player being injured as an advantage for our team if for no other reason than that type of thing can be a way of bringing a team together.
“Their bonding as a result of that injury could be a factor in the game.”
Model is also led by senior centers Maci Siniard (5-11), who scored 18 points against Henry County, and 6-1 Shelby Farrer who scored 13 points in the semifinal game.
Buford’s inside play in its 68-42 semifinal win over Laney on Thursday night is indicative of how the Lady Wolves tackle the task of stopping Model’s big girls. And to say the Lady Wolves were as outsized in their semifinal game as they will be this afternoon is an understatement.
The three Buford players that were called upon to keep 6-1 Taylor Ayers, 5-11 Glentrice Sapp and 6-3 Chelsea Maultsby in check average out at 5-8. It mattered little, though, as Buford outrebounded Laney 35-16 and played tenacious defense on Ayers who, despite having 16 points, was only allowed open looks in transition.
“We had such great focus and intensity (Thursday),” Durden said. “We played great as a team on their inside players and were great on the boards. I mean, Katie Lynn had six rebounds in the first half from her guard position.”
Aside from the differential in size on the inside, Model and Buford are quite similar. Both thrive off intense defensive pressure and score on average 61 points per game. The Lady Blue Devils have a slight advantage in points allowed per game, giving up 35 to Buford’s 38.
“Model is a well-coached, fundamental team that bases everything on defense. We’re going to have to play our best to beat them.”
If Buford’s best entails anything more than the team has already shown, tonight might simply be the icing on the cake of a great season.
“Our main focus right now is to give everything we’ve got knowing this is the final game,” Buford senior Michelle Godwin said.
Fellow senior Jocelyn Danley echoed that.
“Coach Durden has always told us that the worst thing we can do is walk away thinking we haven’t given it everything,” she said. “We’re going to leave it all out on the floor, and (we’re) relaxed but excited — if that makes sense — to be able to play for a state championship.”
The Buford girls program has never won a state title and hasn’t been to the championship game since 1999. Model is seeking its second state championship, the first since 1997.