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Drew makes historic Class AAAAA semifinals appearance

Drew’s Jada Hargrove, a sophomore, has averaged 11 points and four steals this season to help the Titans reach the Class AAAAA semifinals. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Drew’s Jada Hargrove, a sophomore, has averaged 11 points and four steals this season to help the Titans reach the Class AAAAA semifinals. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

IF YOU GO

Who: Drew vs. Tucker

When, where: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. at Fort Valley State University

Admission: $12

Records, seeding: Drew (26-3) is top seed from Region 5-AAAAA, and ranked No. 3 in the state; Tucker (26-4) is the No. 2 seed from Region 5-AAAAA, and ranked No. 4.

Broadcast: Video stream live on the NFHSNetwork.com/ghsa

How they got here: Tucker defeated Gainesville (55-49), Osborne (64-59) and Salem (55-39); Drew defeated Evans (74-64), Richmond Hill (67-42) and Greenbrier (72-59).

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Drew coach Candence Jackson said her team’s only focus now has been on Tucker, Saturday’s opponent in the Class AAAAA playoffs. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

RIVERDALE — Drew coach Candence Jackson wasn’t quite sure how her team would react in their first road playoff game in program history.

After all, only two games prior to Wednesday’s Class AAAAA quarterfinals game at Greenbrier, the Titans had won their first playoff game in program history.

Although Drew struggled at times, the Titans prevailed with a 13-point lead to reach the semifinals — also a first in team history.

Drew’s first two playoff games were on the road, so the inexperienced team was facing a big challenge.

“We had gotten used to playing at home, so winning at Greenbrier was huge,” Drew coach Candence Jackson said. “It was a win on the road against a hostile crowd.”

Now, Drew travels to Fort Valley State to take on second-ranked Tucker for the right to play in next week’s finals in Macon.

And Jackson is not too concerned about the venue of the game. Drew is 7-2 at neutral sites this season while Tucker posts an 8-2 record in neutral venue games.

“I’m not necessarily concerned about where the game is going to be played,” Jackson said. “This group has grown up real fast throughout the playoffs. We don’t have time to marvel over how big an arena is, but we have to settle down and play Lady Titans basketball.”

Drew’s growth came out of the fact that center Lakiah Sims was the only player on the roster with playoff experience. And that was very limited.

Sims played as a freshman for the Titans playoff team that lost in the first round at home after being the Region 4-AAA runner-up.

Now, the all-region center has carried the team on her shoulders during the first three rounds. Sims is averaging 28 points in three playoff games, which included a game-high 32 in the win at Greenbrier.

She has taken the refuse-to-lose attitude throughout the postseason.

“I know my next loss is my last high school game,” Sims said. “We are looking to build on our school history. With me being a senior, I want to be able to put that ring on my finger. I want a state title.”

To do so, the Titans will have to play a solid Tucker team that has only four losses on the season. The Tigers losses have been to St. Francis, the defending Class A champion, Parkview, Forest Park and Southwest DeKalb in the Region 6-AAAAA championship game.

“They are a well-disciplined team,” Jackson said. “We are going to have to really buckle down.”

The Tigers, who averaged 59 points per game, are led by Erykah Davenport. The 6-foot-2 senior is averaging 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Jackson said that Sims and Davenport will have an interesting match-up for the game.

“Their center has the height, but Lakiah has the muscle,” Jackson said. “All season Lakiah has been our go-to player, but she has a good cast of players around her. We are going to have to play our brand of basketball if we want to come out on top.”