Deerfield leading scorer Ramello Carter, above, smiles as he walks off the floor with the GISA Region 1-AAA championship trophy, while the DWS girls, top right, celebrated together after capturing their own Saturday. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BY TIMOTHY THREADCRAFT
SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
ALBANY — Deerfield’s varsity boys shrugged off a sluggish start to capture another region title, topping the Calvary Christian Knights, 65-44, on Saturday night at Darton State College’s Cavalier Arena.
And that brought a smile to the normally tense face of head coach Gordy Gruhl after some near misses in recent seasons.
“When you have the success we’ve had, you don’t really appreciate games like this until you don’t win them, like a couple of years ago,” he said. “Thing is, we started out playing (Saturday) like we had our minds on next week. We’re happy we won it, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Once Calvary Christian jumped out to a five-point lead after the first quarter, the home team was wide awake by the time they hit the locker rooms after Ramello Carter drained a 3pointer from the left shoulder with less than four seconds left in the half to go into the break up 33-28.
It was all DWS from there.
“Cavalry’s got some good, athletic players,” Gruhl said. “We got lost and gave them open looks early (Saturday night). When their legs were fresh, they were knocking down those shots, but later on in the second half those shots stopped falling.
“From that point, we were able to get some easy transition points off the misses.”
Try a lot of easy transition points off those Calvary misses.
The Knights struggled to make much ground in the third quarter, where they only outscored the visitors by two, making it 43-40 Deerfield. However, thanks to a 16-2 run by Deerfield, sparked in the early fourth quarter, the Knights were able to stretch their lead to 17 with two minutes left to play.
After Carter stole a pass and broke away for an easy fast-break layup, the visitors’ upset hopes were all but extinguished.
“Our depth came in handy. We’ve got a lot of guys we can rotate in, and when you’re running a college court like at Darton, at that pace, depth really comes into play,” Gruhl said.
Carter, a Herald Super 6er, contributed in each phase of the game for the Knights, finishing with 10 rebounds and five assists to go along with 21 points. Weston King added 13 points and six rebounds, while Jason Battle added nine points off the bench.
Carter said he just wanted to bring the title home.
“I just wanted to do whatever I had to do to help my teammates get the region title, every point, every rebound was going towards that,” he said. “I think we had to refocus and forget about the state playoffs.”
Gruhl said now the team can look ahead — but not too much.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves. You hear the cliché all the time, but it’s true: We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said. “We stumbled in the first round last year, and we can’t let that happen again. We’ve got nine seniors on the team this year, and we want to send them off on the right note.”
The Knights moved to 21-3 on the year and will face Weber School at Tattnall Square next Thursday.
DWS GIRLS 39, TIFTAREA 29: No coach would ever say they’d feel totally comfortable with a postseason championship game in the hands of a freshman, but Deerfield coach Jeff Eubanks wasn’t necessarily all that worried Saturday night.
Eubanks’ Lady Knights struggled to get shots off against a tough Tiftarea squad all game, but an 11-4 run in the second quarter engineered by Nyla Perry and Casey Kincheloe brought the Lady Knights some much-needed momentum before the half. Perry and Kincheloe each grabbed four rebounds and two steals prior to the break.
“Nerves got to us early, we gave up a lot of rebounds, had some turnovers, so when the fourth quarter started, we talked about how we hadn’t played to our potential,” the coach said.
There was no clear point where it all came together, per se, for the Lady Knights, but it was Perry’s corner 3-pointer with less than three minutes in regulation that put the Lady Knights up one after it looked like they might give it away down the stretch.
After trading free throws on consecutive possessions, Perry was at the charity stripe with a chance to preserve a region championship for her Lady Knights.
“I was just focused, trying to keep my eyes on the prize,” she said.
With a group of Lady Panther fans at their loudest behind the basket, she knocked down both free throws to put the Lady Knights up 32-29 with 7.8 seconds left. The DWS defense held on last possession — and the celebration was on.
“We were pretty pumped because both times we played, they were close games,” Kincheloe said. “We split the series and lost one game in overtime, so I guess you could say it was like a rivalry game for us.”
Perry finished with a game-high 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Kincheloe added six of her own, along with six rebounds and four steals. Ali Rippy and Rachel Thomason added seven points each for the Lady Panthers in a losing effort.
“I was proud of my girls. We had some good defensive stops down the stretch, and they hit clutch free throws too,” Eubanks said. “The team is really coming together. I like our chances for the first round of the playoffs.”
The Lady Knights will now face the Atlanta Girls’ School Friday at Tattnall Square, while Tiftarea will play the Holy Spirit School at the same venue.