By Brian Paglia
Riverdale girls basketball coach Tony Brinson can easily recount the past two meetings between the Lady Raiders and No. 6 Bradwell Institute. Neither one ended well. They were losses on both occasions, first in last year's Class AAAAA tournament and then in a Christmas tournament final this season.
After Riverdale's last meeting with Bradwell, Brinson sensed another meeting with the Lady Tigers might be forthcoming.
"I told them at the Christmas tournament that we might have to see them again in the state tournament," Brinson said. "And that's how our fortunes have turned."
Indeed, after Riverdale's 69-45 victory over Warner Robins in the first round of the state tournament Saturday -- the first state tournament win for the girls basketball program in five years -- another encounter awaits. The Lady Raiders (21-8) are on to the Sweet Sixteen only to find Bradwell (28-1) in their path once more.
"That's like a revenge game," Riverdale senior forward Janel Osbourne said.
Nothing about the formidable challenge should be foreign to the Lady Raiders. They have seen Bradwell's up-tempo brand of transition offense, which they know must be slowed. They have seen the Lady Tigers relentless full-court pressure defense, which they know they must break.
They have seen Bradwell senior forward Seandre Lee, the Region 3-AAAAA player of the year, who averages 19.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals a game, who they know they must contain.
"We've got a feel and idea of what we're doing," Brinson said.
That was certainly evident Saturday afternoon inside Riverdale's gym, where the Lady Raiders put forth a well-rounded performance against Warner Robins not seen for years. By the end of the first half, Riverdale held a double-digit lead, 43-32. Three players had already scored in double figures -- seniors Tiarya Green (Tulsa), Janel Osbourne (Jacksonville) and Olivia Lee -- and that was the most promising development of the game.
Osbourne led Riverdale with 25 points, Green scored 19 and Lee, a Forest Park transfer, had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds -- a rare occasion when the full potential of all three was on display in unison.
On most nights throughout the regular season, the trio took turns carrying the Lady Raiders on offense. Sometimes just one performed. Sometimes two. But rarely all three, rarely a perfect storm.
Until Saturday. And the significance was not lost on Riverdale.
"To be honest, this is really the first game that us three played together all on one accord," Green said. "Every other game it might be Janel on and Olivia and me off, or one game it might be Olivia on and Janel off. Or one game it might be just me on.
"(Saturday), I guess we came together and played together as a team. It's a different season, so I guess we were ready for this season to start."
As has been customary this season, when Brinson puts forth his starting lineup Wednesday at Bradwell Institute in Hinesville, all five girls will be seniors. All five have played in the state tournemant before, and thus each carries the requisite experience.
But Riverdale's fortunes are unequivocally rested upon the performance of three -- Green, Osbourne and Lee.
"If they come prepared each and every night, we're a really hard team to stop," Brinson said. "Those three are the key. And I tell them all the time. All the girls know that their leadership is very important."