The Arabia Mountain girls showed why they are a team with a bright future. The Rams, who have has only one senior on their roster, used defense and determination to score a first-round victory over No. 8-ranked Villa Rica.
The Rams (20-5) held Villa Rica (25-4) scoreless for almost the first five minutes of the fourth period and outscored the Wildcats 12-2 over the final two minutes to pull away at the end. Arabia Mountain made 10 of 14 free throws during that stretch to ice the game.
Coach Diana Byrd said her team’s reaction to the stressful fourth quarter wasn’t surprising. They went through a similar situation a few weeks ago in an overtime game against Columbia.
“We told them, as long as they stay focused on the ball and as long as they stay focused on what we’re telling them, they don’t have to be rattled because we’ve already been here,” Byrd said. “The game was tied, it was still level playing ground, it was ours to win.”
The top scorer for Arabia Mountain was Iyanna McMillan, whose quickness was too much for Villa Rica. The junior spent the night slapping balls away on defense and driving to the basket on offense. She was 7-for-8 at the line and also dropped in a pair of 3-pointers.
Arabia Mountain did a nice job of Villa Rica star Deasia Merrill, one of the state’s top prospects. Merrill scored 19 points, but was harassed in the post all night by the Arabia Mountain defense. Merrill also played most of the fourth quarter with four fouls.
“That was the goal, to make sure we knew where she was at all times and keep her out of the play,” Bird said. “We knew that was their go-to girl. We just preached defense, denying the ball and it worked.”
Arabia Mountain’s next test will come on Wednesday night at No. 1-ranked Griffin.
There were no major upsets among the girls in the first round. All eight region champions won their openers, as expected. The average margin of victory in those eight games was xx points (177. The worst was the 69-20 win by Eagle’s Landing over South Effingham, one of three No. 4 seeds who failed to even score 30 points. The closest call was Jackson’s 62-50 win over Clarke Central.
The other games were closers. Five of the No. 2 seeds won on their home courts, with three of the No. 3 teams coming away with the upset. Villa Rica was the only ranked team to lose its first-round game.
Region 5 boys sweep through
All four playoff teams from Region 5 sailed through the first round, ending the season for Region 7. No. 4 Miller Grove, No. 5 Columbia, No. 8 Southwest DeKalb and Lithonia each picked up impressive wins.
The biggest surprise came from Lithonia, which became the only fourth-seeded team in AAAAA to advance to the second round. The Bulldogs beat Region 7 champion Villa Rica 75-66. Villa Rica hit four 3-pointers to open the game and went on to lead 36-25 at the half. The Wildcats led by as many as 17 points in the second half, only to have Lithonia go on a 23-6 run and tie the game 50-50.
Sydarius Stinton scored 16, Cortez Roberson scored 15 and Christian Parker scored 13, all in the second half. Villa Rica made nine 3-pointers, four of them from Rodney Thompson, who scored 16. Nigel Taylor led four other double-figure scorers with 12 points.
Southwest DeKalb, the No. 3 seed, went on the road and beat Kell 52-34. Mandarius Dickerson scored 16 and Darius Hogan scored 12. The Panthers were 19-for-25 from the line.
Top-seed Miller Grove defeated Paulding County 73-46 and No. 2 seed Columbia beat Carrollton 74-51.
Buford boys survive scare
No.1-ranked Buford trailed Lithia Springs 13-2 to start the game, but used a 17-5 run to take the lead early in the second quarter. The Wolves won the game 75-63, but the margin was two points with five minutes remaining. Buford closed the game with a 12-2 run.
Buford (25-2) has won 14 straight games. Marcus Watson totaled 23 points and 15 rebounds and point guard Alex Jones scored 19. Lithia Springs got 25 points from Ceaunte Zachery.
Other girls highlights:
No. 1 Griffin got 17 points from Zacoria Berry, 11 from TyLeslie Johnson and 10 from Andeija Puckett in a 54-38 victory over Veterans. … No. 2 Buford opened the game with an 11-0 run and led 40-12 at the half. Audrey Weinder scored 18 and Marissa Bruce added 14 for the Wolves. Decatur got 21 points from Taylor Jones. … No. 3 ranked Southwest DeKalb (24-4) had no trouble with Kell. The Panthers led 34-10 at halftime and rolled to a 65-24 win. … No. 4 Warner Robins (26-1) got 22 points from Kenzie Holmes and beat Morrow 68-41. … No. 6 Flowery Branch beat North Springs 58-32 behind a 19-point effort by Taniyah Worth. … No. 7 Maynard Jackson broke up a one-point game in the fourth quarter to beat Clarke Central 62-50, despite 20 points from Fredricka Sheats. … No. 9 Eagle’s Landing got 18 points from Ashley Foster and 14 from Kiera Howard in a 69-20 win over South Effingham. … Columbia outscored Cass 39-17 in the second half and ran away to a 60-41 win over Cass. Deidra Harris had 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Eagles. … Statesboro got 19 points from Molly Mikell and beat Locust Grove 65-40. Paige Lewis scored 21 for the Grove. … Alex Thomas scored 18 points in Wayne County’s 48-47 win over Dutchtown. ….
Other boys highlights:
No. 2 Cedar Shoals got 24 points from Stavion Stevenson and rolled past Maynard Jackson 64-47. … No. 3 Warner Robins got 27 points from guard Nelson Phillips in a 64-47 win over Griffin. … No. 6 Fayette County got 21 points from Noah Gurley and 19 from Austin Nesmith and eliminated Bainbridge 58-48. … No. 7 Eagle’s Landing gave up only 11 points in the second half and beat Wayne County 61-41. Brandon Thomas scored 20 to lead the Eagles. … New Hampstead knocked off No. 10 Union Grove 65-62. Calvin Turner scored 18 points, with Oronte Anderson adding 14 points and seven assists, and Xavier Jones totaling 13 points and 11 rebounds. Union Grove got 24 points from Braelen Bridges. … Christian Blue scored 17 points to help Dutchtown defeat Ware County 59-55. Ware got 24 points from Jamar Lincoln. … Riverdale got 28 points from Jonathan Foster and 17 from Cyrus Richards, who made five 3-pointers, in a 74-63 win over Veterans.
Lithia Spring (15-12) at Eagle’s Landing (24-3)
McIntosh (20-8) at SW DeKalb (23-4)
Flowery Branch (22-6) at Statesboro (19-8)
Fayette County (21-8) at Carrollton (28-1)
Ware County (25-4) at Buford (25-2)
Columbia (17-7) at Warner Robins (26-1)
Wayne County (18-6) at Maynard Jackson (22-2)
Arabia Mountain (20-5) at Griffin (26-1)
Riverwood (22-5 at Eagle’s Landing (20-6)
Starr’s Mill (18-10) at Miller Grove (18-8)
Cedar Shoals (24-4) at Statesboro (19-9)
Lithonia (12-15) at Riverdale (12-11)
New Hampstead (17-8) at Buford (25-2)
Southwest DeKalb (17-12) at Warner Robins (24-3)
Dutchtown (20-7) at Carver (16-13)
Columbia (21-7) at Fayette County (21-7)
Girls play Wednesday, boys play Thursday, unless a doubleheader is scheduled.