By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy head coach Jackie Cowan wasn’t concerned about a let down on the court Friday as her third-ranked Warriors hosted Strong Rock, after claiming an emotional two-point win over No. 2 St. Francis on Tuesday.
That’s because, unfortunately, the let down occurred off the court during the week, days after the win. As a result, Cowan suspended a couple of key players for the Strong Rock game, and with 6-foot-2 junior center Alexis Carter still on the mend from knee surgery, that meant only six Warriors were available to take on the Patriots .
But SACA (17-3) still had more then enough fire power to take care of Strong Rock (13-5), a five-year-old school in Locust Grove that is in its second season competing in the Georgia High Schools Association. The Warriors jumped out to a 23-8 lead after one quarter and didn’t look back in a 67-32 win.
“We are dealing with some internal issues, some discipline issues,” Cowan said afterward. She did not go into detail about the issues. “Discipline and obedience are huge factors that we have to have. We took a big step forward Tuesday, but then we took a step backward.”
Standout senior guard/forward Shavontae Naylor was among the suspended players. But sophomore forward Amy Griffin and junior forward Amber Brown made certain Naylor wasn’t missed that much. The two were dominant inside from the start. Griffin scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in the first quarter, while Brown added seven points, three rebounds and two steals.
SACA’s unrelenting full-court pressure forced Strong Rock into numerous turnovers, and the lead ballooned to 32-9 midway through the second quarter, after an offensive rebound and put back by Griffin, who finished with a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds.
But Strong Rock closed the half with an 8-2 run to close the gap to under 20 points, 34-17. The Patriots are coached by A.C. McCullers, a four-time Atlanta Tip Off Club Coach of the Year who won state titles at Morrow in the 1980s and 1990s. However, SACA opened the third quarter with a 9-0 spurt.
“We played about as hard as we can play, but they’re such a good, talented team,” McCullers said of SACA. “It’s going to take a heck of a team to beat them.”
Strong Rock reduced the deficit to under 20 points again at the end of the third quarter, after two free throws by junior Candler Gregory, who led the Patriots with 12 points. But SACA answered again, this time with a 14-0 blitz to open the fourth quarter. Brown, who finished with 14 points, capped the run with a three pointer to put the Warriors up 59-27. Sophomore guard Marquita Daniels, who also had a three during the run, scored 17 points.
“We have to get some size and get some three point shooters like that in our program,” McCullers said. “But we’re excited about what we’re building and we played hard. I was proud of our team.”
Cowan was proud of her team’s effort as well, short handed as they were. Even with just six players, the Warriors kept up the defensive pressure all game long.
“We preach conditioning, conditioning, conditioning,” Cowan said. “I always say, everyone on our team has to be ready to go 32 minutes. I think this shows the strength of our team.”
If the Warriors learn the lesson Cowan is trying to get across to them, and if Carter returns to the floor – which could happen any day – Cowan thinks her team has a chance to do something special in March.
“I think we have the pieces,” Cowan said. “I really do. We just have to work hard and do the things we need to do. Everything else will take care of itself.”