But as the old saying goes, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Cedar Bluff senior center Audrianna Hargitt posted a game-high 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had four steals in leading the Lady Tigers to a 79-69 upset that sends them to Saturday's area championship game. They'll meet top-seeded Spring Garden (16-12) at 7 p.m.
Collinsville's season ends at 21-6.
"It was a rough start, but Coach (Joe Carpenter) kept telling us to be mentally tough, and that's what we did. We stayed mentally tough and we kept fighting," Hargitt said. "Basketball is a game of runs. It's going to go back and forth, but we just kept our heads in the game. As long as we kept our composure, played our ball and not let them control us, we were in good shape."
Freshman guard Delilah Price also came up big for Cedar Bluff (14-14). She finished with 17 points and had seven steals.
"This is the game I stepped up and did what I knew I could do," Price said. "Once we saw the scoreboard and saw we were down, we just had the willpower. We found it in our hearts to come back out and go as hard as we could."
Carpenter said he's proud of the effort the Lady Tigers put forth - not just in the game, but all week at practice.
"Our girls prepped all week. They got a little distracted at times, but they knew this was the big prize," he said. "We had a game plan. We went back to our fundamentals. We corrected some things we haven't been doing as well as we could do, and the girls bought in. They executed, and we held on. It was a tough second half, but we're glad to be moving on. That's the whole name of the game right now, survive and move on."
Collinsville jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the early going and held a 20-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. But like Price said, the scoreboard served as motivation for the Lady Tigers to not go down without a fight. They went on a 24-10 run in the second quarter to take a 37-30 lead at halftime, then stormed back out in the third quarter and went on a 13-0 run to take a 50-30 advantage. Cedar Bluff led 61-46 after three quarters.
Collinsville managed to cut the Lady Tiger lead to seven at 76-69 on senior forward Kiana Ford's fifth 3-pointer of the game with 43.2 seconds left, but it came too little too late.
"I think our girls gave a lot of effort in the fourth quarter. They put a lot into it, but you have to give Cedar Bluff credit. They really hit the boards hard in the first half and the third quarter," Collinsville coach Jon Tidmore said. "They kind of set a physical tone that we couldn't answer until late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter."
Carpenter said he thought late in the game his team "stopped playing to win ... we were playing not to lose."
"I told them 'Let's remember why we're here. We're here to try to win the game. If we lose playing hard, then we lose playing hard,'" Carpenter said. "We kind of stepped it back up, but we still had some difficulties. I'm not taking anything away from Collinsville. They're a 20-win ball team and a fine ball club, but we just played real well tonight and come out with the win. I'm happy with my girls. They worked hard."
Hargitt said Thursday's win was big, but she knows it's not the ultimate goal.
"We're going to celebrate this win, but we realize we have another game in front of us," Hargitt said. "We've got to keep going. We can't just stop right here."
Senior forward Hannah Leach added 12 points and five rebounds for the Lady Tigers. Junior guard Katie McGinnis contributed 10 points, nine boards, six assists and three steals. Junior guard Rylie Johnson finished with five points.
Ford led Collinsville with 21 points. Senior guard Christy Cox came away with 20 points. Junior center Savannah Boyles netted 12 points and and junior guard Hanna Hornbuckle finished with seven points.
Tidmore said he's proud of the season the Lady Panthers had, and especially what his three seniors (Ford, Cox and point guard Brittney Tidmore)have brought to the girls basketball program.
"I appreciate our seniors more than I can put into words. They've done a lot for Collinsville girls basketball," he said. "We had a 20-win season. We were ranked in the state. We won back-to-back (DeKalb) county championships, which has never been done at Collinsville. Once they get over this heartbreak in a week or two, they'll be able to look back and realize how good a career they've had. I appreciate them for it."
Spring Garden girls 72, Gaylesville girls 30
SPRING GARDEN - Madison Sides connected on four 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 17 points in leading the top-seed Spring Garden Lady Panthers to a 72-30 victory over Gaylesville in the Class 1A, Area 10 girls tournament semifinals Thursday.
The Lady Panthers (16-12) will meet Cedar Bluff in the area championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Spring Garden.
The Lady Panthers were clicking from the outside. They sank nine treys in the game.
Haley Motes had 14 points, including a pair of treys, to go along with three assists and three steals. Emory Reedy and Auburn Kirk also contributed 14 points apiece. Kirk drained two 3-pointers.
Spring Garden also turned in a solid effort on defense, finishing with 16 steals.
Alex Montgomery led the Lady Trojans (10-13) with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Lauren Hammett contributed 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to go along with five rebounds and three steals.
Spring Garden jumped out to a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and held a 33-17 advantage at halftime. The Lady Panthers increased their lead to 64-23 at the end of the third quarter.