Top-ranked McEachern has been jumping out to big early leads all season, but rarely has it had to hold on down the stretch like it did against Norcross on Friday.
The Indians took a 9-0 lead in the first 1:31 of the game, then survived a frantic fourth quarter to beat the Blue Devils 64-61 in the Class AAAAA girls basketball semifinals at Gwinnett Arena, ending Norcross’ bid for a third consecutive state title.
The victory puts McEachern (32-0) in the state championship game for the second consecutive season and avenged a 61-36 loss to Norcross in last year’s final. The Indians will play for their first state title at 7 p.m. Friday at Gwinnett.
“I think I was more nervous than the girls were,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said. “I was nervous because I knew they were going to give us a close game. But I didn’t care if it came down to the wire, as long as we won by one it didn’t matter.”
It was just the sixth time this season that McEachern won by fewer than 10 points. The Indians outscored their first three opponents in the state tournament by an average of 42.7 points.
Freshman Te’a Cooper opened the game with a 3-pointer, and Dominique Wilson followed with two layups. When Destinie Gibbs made a jumper from the free-throw line, it was 9-0 and Norcross called its first timeout.
The lead held steady between six and 13 points until the fourth quarter. Wilson’s 3-pointer with seven minutes to play gave the Indians a 54-41 lead, but Norcross scored 14 of the next 17 points, cutting it to 57-55 on a free throw by Shayla Cooper with 1:46 to play. McEachern’s Pachiyaanna Roberts answered with a layup and free throw, and the Indians went 4-for-6 from the line over the next minute for a 64-61 lead. Norcross had two chances to tie it in the final 10 seconds, but Diamond DeShields and Cooper both missed 3-pointers.
It was a tough day offensively for DeShields, last year’s all classification player of the year. The junior was 3-for-13 from the field and finished with nine points. Cooper led the Blue Devils with 18 points, and Tori Carter had 14.
Wilson led all scorers with 21 points. Cooper finished with 18 and Roberts had 11 for the Indians.
“They were the big dog,” Arthur said of Norcross (26-6). “We both had a lot to lose, and my girls were not going down like that.”