Lady Hawks 13-10 (GSC 8-7) vs. North Alabama Lions 16-8 (GSC 9-5)
Thursday February 21 • 6 pm • Winthrop-King Centre
By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- This year, the final home game of the season has taken on even more meaning for the Shorter Lady Hawks basketball team.
First and foremost, Thursday night's Gulf South Conference game against North Alabama will mark the final time seniors Shelby Farrer and Chelsi Matthews will play at the Winthrop-King Centre, where the pair played a major role for the past four years in leading the Lady Hawks into the national spotlight.
There is, however, something that even the seniors may agree with that is even more important – using the final home game to snap a rare losing streak and regain the momentum as the season nears its end.
"It's a special night – it's the last home game of the season and the last home game for our seniors," head coach Vic Mitchell said as the Lady Hawks, now 13-10 overall and 8-7 in the conference after falling short in their last three games, focus on getting back on track heading into the last three GSC games of the year and their postseason appearance in March in the National Christian College Athletic Association national tournament.
"We're glad to be back home where we've always played well and feel comfortable," Mitchell said about playing at WKC, where the Lady Hawks are 21-4 over the past two years. "We need to use that advantage. We have to right the ship, feel better about ourselves and be more confident."
Mitchell is quick to point out that he is very confident the Lady Hawks can regroup and end the losing skid, one that included last week's long GSC road trip that started with a nearly eight-hour bus ride to Cleveland, Miss., to face Delta State and ended with a trip to Memphis where Shorter was upended by Christian Brothers.
"It's a tough road trip physically," said Mitchell, "and this time of the year it takes a toll on you mentally."
On top of that, the Lady Hawks suffered uncharacteristically cold shooting outings in the two games, hitting just 29 percent of their shots from the floor against Delta State and then finishing with a 25 percent shooting mark against Christian Brothers.
"We didn't shoot the ball well either game," Mitchell said, "and if you do that you'll always have a hard time winning."
"But it's not like we've been playing like that for a long time," he added, noting that in an overtime loss to conference foe Valdosta State right before the road games the Lady Hawks hit almost 40 percent of their shots in a narrow loss to an even hotter-shooting VSU squad. "All we have to do is look back at that game at how well we shot."
"It's all on us. The bottom line is that we've got to play better on the offensive side of the court."
Tied for fifth in the GSC standings with Alabama-Huntsville, the Lady Hawks close out the regular season with three tough conference tests. After hosting North Alabama, which is in third place in the conference, in Thursday's 6 pm tipoff, Shorter heads back on the road Saturday to face Gulf South leader Union (Tenn.) and then caps its first season in the conference visiting Alabama-Huntsville on March 2.
Although prohibited from playing in the GSC and NCAA postseason tourneys as Shorter is in its second of a three-year transition process, the Lady Hawks are still headed to the postseason as they will play in the NCCAA tournament that begins March 4 with a regional showdown in Florida.
Ready to help the Lady Hawks regain their scoring punch are three guards who have given the team a balanced attack.
Juniors Karisma Boykin and Kristin Nash lead the team averaging respective 11.6 and 10.5 points a game, while sophomore Ieshia Alexander is a shade away from averaging in double digits with a 9.4 mark.
Farrer is certainly making her final season at Shorter her best as the senior has anchored Shorter's inside game averaging a career-best 7.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, and – along with Matthews – has been a key part of the team for four years.
"You can't say enough about what they have meant to the program," Mitchell said about Farrer, who has played in 115 games as a Lady Hawk, and Matthews, who is five games shy of reaching the century mark. "They went to three national tournaments and heading into the season were averaging 24 wins a season."
"With the wins they've been a part of this season; it's got to be close to a record."
And while the two Lady Hawks will be honored for their contributions on Thursday, they and their teammates fully understand that this last home game of the 2012-13 campaign means much more.
"It's more than our last home game," said Mitchell. "We still can finish strong, finish well in the conference and gain momentum heading into the NCCAA national tournament."