When Jerry Jackson was hired as the girls basketball coach at Arabia Mountain, he inherited a team that was loaded. The Rams returned six girls who started on last year’s 20-6 team that reached the second round of the state playoffs.
But the veteran coach played it cool. He insisted on the eve of the season that no one’s job was safe, just because they started a year ago. Everyone began at the same starting line and Jackson wasn’t ready to impose any expectations on the team.
The strategy worked. Arabia Mountain didn’t have to live with overhyped expectations and responded by winning 13 of its first 14 games. The No. 8-ranked Rams have won 12 straight and on Saturday nudged their way ahead of mighty Southwest DeKalb to take over first place in Region 5. Arabia Mountain is 6-0 in the league.
In the showdown against Southwest, the standard bearer for girls basketball in DeKalb County, the Rams went on a 13-2 run in the final 2:36 and took a 64-52 win. Southwest trailed by as many as 20 points and drew to within 51-50 with 2:36 left.
That’s when Arabia Mountain got hot. Iyania Kitchens, a 6-foot-3 senior who has signed with Ole Miss, scored on a layup, two of nine points in the quarter and finished with 11. Marissa Mills scored 18 points and Iyanna McMillan scored 17 for the Rams.
Southwest’s rally was led by Michaela Benefield, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Adrienna Thompson, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers (7-10, 4-1).
Here are some other top story lines from the weekend:
Gas leak halts Rome-Villa Rica game: Villa Rica appeared well on its way to winning its 14th straight game, leading Rome by seven points with five minutes left, when officials halted the game because of a possible gas leak. The game was stopped and the schools have not determined when it will be completed. Villa Rica (13-0) has the longest winning streak in the state.
Villa Rica girls turn back Rome: Villa Rica (12-0) remained undefeated by taking down Rome (10-2). The 66-52 win puts Villa Rica in first place in Region 7 and handed the Wolves their first league loss. Deasia Merrill had 25 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in the win.
Buford boys take care of Clarke Central: The defending state champs (12-2) improved to 4-0 by beating Clarke Central (12-4). The Wolves have won 10 straight, including the Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Florida.
Region 5 boys reset: With two straight wins, Miller Grove (10-6, 5-1) and Southwest DeKalb (12-5, 4-1) have taken over the top spot in the Region 5 race. Lithonia (14-4, 3-2) and Columbia (9-6, 4-3) hold the other two playoff spots after losing two straight.
Miller Grove beat Lithonia (47-34) and Columbia (56-50) last week. Southwest DeKalb beat Arabia Mountain (61-52) and routed Spalding 56-27 in a non-league game. The two league leaders will meet on Friday at Miller Grove and play again on Jan. 19 at SWD.
Lithonia lost to Etowah 37-36 in a non-league game before falling to Miller Grove. The Bulldogs play Chamblee on Friday and have a rematch with Southwest DeKalb on Jan. 16.
Columbia was upset by Chamblee (81-75) the day before its loss to Miller Grove. The Eagles have split two games with Miller Grove.