On a night where they honored their seniors the Lithia Springs girls basketball team made it a point to start strong against visiting East Paulding and used that early momentum to cruise to a 68-35 win Tuesday night.
“Our mindset was to win today, to work hard, play hard,” Lithia Springs senior point guard Arit Asanga said.
Lithia Springs was aggressive from the opening tip as junior Kiana Johnson started the scoring with a hard drive to the hoop for two points. More aggressive drives from Johnson and Asanga sent them to the free throw line where Lithia Springs took a 7-3 lead.
If its offense was aggressive, Lithia Springs’ defense was downright in your face, as Lithia pressed East Paulding early and often. After an Asanga three-pointer, the guard got a steal and converted a layup to put Lithia Springs up 19-6 with under two minutes left to play in the opening quarter and Lithia was never threatened again.
“We like to press everybody, but the opponent dictates sometimes that you can [press],” Lithia Springs coach David Mills said. “Tonight we were trying to really get after them. The goal tonight was press to score. We were really looking for an offensive night tonight.”
Johnson led all scorers with 23 points and Asanga finished with 19 as Lithia Springs improved to 13-11 overall and 10-7 in Region 5-AAAAA play. Lithia Springs was on a five-game winning streak before losing in the final seconds at New Manchester Saturday night.
“We’ve finally started coming together as a team, gelling a little bit on ends of the floor,” Mills said. “You get older kids that see the end of the season coming and they tend to play with a little more sense of urgency. That’s where we were and we kind of showed up against New Manchester flat and handed it to them. They came out [strong] and they executed down the stretch and beat us late.”
Asanga was honored along with two other senior girls, fellow tri-captain T’era Fullove and Ja’keria English, who is not playing because of injury. Asanga is proud of her improvement over the last four years.
“As a [freshman] I wasn’t that good,” she said. “As a player, over time I have developed.”
East Paulding, who has only defeated winless Paulding County this season, dropped to 3-20 overall and 2-14 in the region with the loss. Lithia Springs won at East Paulding 56-20 a little over three weeks ago, but Mills is impressed with the Raiders’ improvement.
Lithia Springs closes out its regular season by hosting Alexander tonight. Alexander is 8-8 in region play and defeated Lithia Springs 63-55 at Alexander in early December. Lithia Springs, Alexander, Chapel Hill, and South Paulding all entered Tuesday night battling for the fourth spot in the region tournament.
“We seem to be locked in to the four-five [spot],” Mills said. “I think if we win [tonight] we give ourselves a good shot at the four-seed.”