GAC defense shuts down attack
By CHRIS WHITE
DALTON, Ga. -- Less than 72 hours after a second-round victory against Lovett that Kendrick coach Sterling Hicks described as his team’s best performance of the season, the top-ranked Cherokees’ search for perfection was reset by what the coach called its worst night of the year.
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No. 7 Greater Atlanta Christian limited Kendrick to 12 first-half points and maintained a 20-plus-point lead much of the second half Friday for a 60-36 victory over the Cherokees in a Georgia High School Association Class AA quarterfinal game at the NorthWest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.
“We picked the worst night to play our worst game of the season,” Hicks said. “Our last game was our best of the season; this was our worst. It happens, I guess.”
Kendrick finished 29-1 overall after suffering its first loss since it finished 31-1 in the last season’s Class AA semifinals. GAC advances to play in the state semifinals against the Dodge County-Northeast Macon winner. That game will be played at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Macon Centreplex.
GAC’s defense, led in the paint by 6-foot-3 center Kristina Nelson’s game-leading 11 rebounds, limited Kendrick’s points but not its chances. The Cherokees shot 16 percent from the floor including an 0-for-13 performance from 3-point territory and were 14-for-28 from the free-throw line. Those numbers doomed even the Cherokees’ best efforts, Hicks said.
“I don’t think it was a lack of effort,” Hicks said. “We weren’t trying to miss. We were just missing shots. We’re not a good shooting team, but we’re never that bad, either.”
GAC never struggled to find buckets and was 26-for-52, or 50 percent, shooting from the floor and 5-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line. Brianna Cummings led the Spartans with 16 points, Siera Lawrence scored 11, and Chandler Alverson and Nelson scored 10 apiece.
GAC pulled out of a 5-5 tie with a 12-0 run that lasted nearly half of the first quarter, and the Spartans led 21-9 at the end of the period. GAC carried over a run into the second quarter and led 28-9 before Kendrick ended a seven-minute scoring drought with 2:52 left in the half on a free throw by Janai Merritt.
Jakiera Matthews added a pair of free throws to complete a three-point second quarter for Kendrick, and GAC held a 36-12 lead into the break.
“(Kendrick’s) pressure is very intense, and I just throught we’d be able to set the tone if we got a good start,” GAC coach Cal Boyd said. “In order to do that, we needed defense, and our defense was key. We held them to 12 points in the first half, which for a team that scores the way they do, I thought that was the key.”
Kendrick strung together a 9-0 burst early in the third quarter to cut GAC’s lead down to 16 points at 40-24, and the Cherokees appeared to have shaken their first-half shooting woes. Thomas scored six of her team-best 10 points in the third period, and the Cherokees got points from Erica Stanley, Merritt, Deshanti Lewis and Quineka Moffett and Deja Cheatham in that quarter.
“We kept up the intensity in the second half,” Thomas said. “We needed to start getting to the basket and start getting free throws if we wanted to win.”
But once Kendrick’s brief third-quarter run was over, GAC matched buckets with the Cherokees the rest of the game.
“We got a little spurt going, but we just couldn’t get the big stops to get the big runs,” Hicks said. “Obviously you’re not going to win if you’re not scoring more points than the other team or stopping them from scoring.”
Lewis and Merritt finished with seven points apiece, and Thomas was the team’s only double-digit scorer.
Kendrick has reached at least the quarterfinals in all but the first of Hicks’ 10 seasons at the helm, and he said the Cherokees’ hopes of returning hinge on the dedication of next year’s lineup.
“I just believe in work,” Hicks said. “So if I’m back here, it’s because we’re working again. You never know what the future holds.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.
@z-BR Agate Bold Centered:Friday at NorthWest Georgia Trade
and Convention Center
GAC 21 15 14 10 -- 60
Kendrick 9 3 17 7 -- 36
Greater Atlanta Christian (60)
Brianna Cummings 16, Siera Lawrence 11, Chandler Alverson 10, Krista Nelson 10, Means 5, Cranshaw 4, Hill 2, Young 2,
Jazmin Thomas 10, Lewis 7, Merritt 7, Matthews 4, Stanley 4, Cheatham 3, Moffett 1
Team records: GAC 24-7; Kendrick 29-1. Next: GAC vs. Dodge County-Northeast Macon winner in Class AA semifinals, 4 p.m. Thursday at Macon Centreplex.