TUNNEL HILL -- Going into what would be her final game at Northwest Whitfield High School, Tionna Baker didn't know how close she was to a milestone.

The senior guard was leading her Bruin squad against McDonough High School in the sweet 16 of the Class 4A state playoffs. She entered the game needing 25 points to reach 1,000 scored in her career. She scored 26.

"I didn't even know anything about it. We were down, and I was just trying to get us going," Baker said.

Baker's effort left Northwest short, 60-42, but got her one last milestone to cap a special season and career.

"We went back into the locker room, coach (Bob) Williams brought us in and told us," Baker said. "That was cool, I didn't even know it."

For her efforts during the past basketball season, Tionna Baker has been named the 2020 Daily Citizen-News Girls All Area Basketball Player of the Year.

Continuing a legacy

Northwest Whitfield came into the 2019-20 season needing to replace another award-winning player.

Jada Griffin, Tionna's former teammate and the 2019 and 2018 Daily Citizen-News Girls All Area Basketball Player of the Year, graduated after averaging 22.8 points and pulling down 10.1 rebounds per game in her final season.

Griffin herself was preceded by Bria Clemmons, another two-time player of the year recipient.

That player of the year-sized hole on this year's Northwest Whitfield team was filled by Baker.

"She did a lot of stuff for us to help us win games," Baker said of Griffin. "I had to kind of fill her shoes. It was pretty tough, but I think I did ok."

Baker upped her scoring, netting an average of 14.8 points, up from her junior totals of 11.

"She had done a lot of scoring for us," Baker said. "She did a lot of the work scoring and with leadership. That was an adjustment."

Baker packed the box score outside of the scoring column, too. The point guard averaged 6.6 rebounds per game as well. She found open teammates for shots, averaging 4.7 assists. Baker was a ballhawk on the defensive side of the floor too, averaging 2.8 steals per contest.

Whatever the team needed, Baker said, she'd try to do.

"I just try to find out what I need to do to help the team win," Baker said. "I'll see what my coaches and my team need me to do."

That do-it-all attitude helped Northwest to the Region 6-4A title, which the Bruins claimed with a 49-39 victory over Gilmer High School in the championship game. Northwest defeated Madison County High School in the first round of the state playoffs before bowing out against McDonough. Northwest finished the season 22-8.

"I'm really proud of my team making it as far as we did," Baker said. "Winning the region championship, I wasn't really expecting to do that. I was very proud of us."

Growing in the game

Baker had two built-in basketball role models when she was younger. Taylor and Tyler Baker, Tionna's sister and brother, now 26, both suited up for Northwest High School in their high school days.

"My brother and sister always played, and it was a sort of family trait that we played basketball," Baker said. "That's kind of how I learned the game is just going to their games."

Once she began playing basketball in fourth grade, the older Taylor would help Tionna practice.

As Baker's skills began to improve as she got older, a new challenge would help prepare her for her high school career.

"Two years ago, I started playing with this travel time called FBC," Baker said. "It's a team where I could be exposed to college coaches and get used to the atmosphere."

That exposure has earned Baker some looks from colleges, but no offers as of yet. The senior wants to continue her playing career at the next level, but hasn't decided where she will go to college.

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