By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
When Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy head coach Jackie Cowan added Class AAA Sandy Creek to the schedule twice this season, she was hoping for a couple of tough non-region battles for her Warriors.
While she didn’t get it in the first meeting, back in November, Friday night’s tussle was all SACA (22-3) could handle. But right on cue, on Senior Night, the Warriors’ four twelfth graders stepped up and led the way to a hard-fought 52-45 win.
“That was the idea, to get a solid non-region challenge. But when we played them early, we beat them by at least 20,” said Cowan, who was off by four points. SACA won the first contest 56-32. “But I told our players that they weren’t going to just come in here and lay down, and they didn’t.”
SACA, ranked No. 2 in Class A, led by just one at halftime, 23-22. Sophomore center Amy Griffin scored nine points in the first two periods, but she was neutralized by Sandy Creek sophomore guard Minnae Harris, who had nine points as well, all on three-point jumpers.
A tight game wasn’t all that unexpected, even after the blowout in the first matchup. Of Sandy Creek ’s nine losses, seven have come to ranked opponents.
Harris, who finished with a game-high 18 points, drilled her fourth trey of the game early in the third quarter to tie the score at 25. But the Warriors jumped into a 2-1-2 half court trap, which befuddled the Patriots (16-9) and forced them into seven consecutive turnovers. SACA turned them into 12 points, five by senior guard Wyann Jackson, and sprinted out to a 37-25 lead.
Another deep three-pointer by Harris stopped the run and Sandy Creek whittled the lead down to 40-32 heading into the fourth quarter. Then the Patriots turned up their own defensive pressure, igniting a 10-2 run to start the final period. Two free throws by senior guard Ariel Parker, after a Sandy Creek steal, capped the spurt and tied the score at 42 midway through the fourth quarter.
But SACA closed the game out with a 10-2 run to put the game away. Most of the damage was done by senior guards Brandi Wilkey and Shavontae Naylor, who scored four points a piece during the run. Fellow senior guard Amber Brown put the final nail in the coffin when she deflected a Patriot in-bounds pass to Wilkey, who converted an easy layup, with just :20 left to play. Wilkey led SACA with 12 points.
“The seniors really stepped up,” Cowan said. “We expect them to set an example. We tell them that when we get a lead we have to keep it and push it. [ Sandy Creek ] did a great job of coming back, but I was proud of the way we got the lead back and closed it out.”
Now it’s on to the Region 9 tournament for SACA. But Cowan said she and her team are looking forward to even bigger and better things next month.
“We talk about the big picture all the time, absolutely,” Cowan said. “This right here is just all in a day’s work. Our focus is to get back to the state championship. We haven’t done that since 2006, and we’re looking to get back there.”