Whenikia Washington's steal late in the game --- followed by the game-winner by her sister Kanekia --- lifted Herald No. 1 Randolph-Clay's girls to a narrow win at Calhoun County on Friday in a big Region 1-A showdown.
EDISON — You can scare them.
You just can’t beat them.
That’s what it looked like Friday in Edison, where Calhoun County’s Lady Cougars scared the life out of Randolph-Clay before the Washington twins saved it for the Lady Red Devils, the top-rated Class A pubic school team in Georgia.
Calhoun came close to pulling off the spectacular upset, but with 20 seconds left, Whenikia Washington took the ball away from Herald Super 6er Brandi Buie, and — after a time out — her sister Kanekia Washington dropped in a shot from 10 feet out with 8.3 seconds left to lift Randolph-Clay to a 52-51 lead.
Buie, who led Calhoun with 17 points, tried to win it with a contested drive at the end but her shot sailed wide, and Randolph’s Kobi Thornton pulled down her 15th rebound of the game. Thornton, who had nine points and three blocks to go along with her 15 boards, made the first free throw to make it 53-51, then intentionally missed her second shot. She slammed the ball off the backboard without touching the rim, giving Calhoun one last chance with one second left, but the Lady Cougars’ desperation shot wasn’t even close.
For the record, it was a 53-51 win by Randolph-Clay against its biggest rival, but the game meant so much more. Randolph-Clay had to come back from a 10-point deficit and fight through four lead changes in the final minute.
“I never had a doubt we would win,” Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree said. “I know my girls.’’
When Whenekia made the steal (the 15th Calhoun turnover of the second half) with 20 seconds left, Acree called time out and told her kids they had plenty of time to win it.
“That play was outstanding,” she said of the steal. “I told them that we have 20 seconds to get a good shot, and we went to our leading scorer and Kanekia made it. She’s been making that shot all year for us.”
Still, the sold-out gym was rocking and everyone was on their feet when Kanekia, who dropped in a game-high 18 points, won it.
“I just wanted to shoot it high and soft,’’ she said.
When it hit the net it broke Calhoun’s heart -- and sent the Lady Red Devils to their 16th win. They’re 16-2, ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 poll and are the top-ranked team in the Class A public school poll. That’s what was on the line, as well as a win against their biggest rival.
Calhoun (12-5) was ready for the upset and used a tenacious defense to take a 29-19 lead at halftime, forcing 16 first-half turnovers. Buie, who finished with 17 points, went to the break with nine points, but Calhoun got points from all over the court.
Quinisha Hill, who finished with nine points, and DeNeshia Strawder both came off the bench to hit big 3s for the Lady Cougars, who scored 10 points off fast breaks to take control and finished the half with an 11-4 run to take the 10-point lead to the break.
“There was a lot of pressure on that shot,” Whenekia Washington said of her sister’s game winner. “But we felt like we were going to win. Even (at halftime when we were down by 10 points) we got together and were saying how we were going to win the game. We were saying, ‘We got this.’ ”
In the end, they did get it, first with a pick-pocket steal and then with a clutch shot that ended a furious second-half comeback that saw Adriana Blackmon, who sat out in foul trouble early, score all 10 of her points despite having three fouls. She ignited the Lady Red Devils with an eight-point third quarter that helped turn the game around.
“I was so happy when she made that shot I just wanted to jump up and down all the way down the court,’’ Blackmon said. “But I knew I had to stay focused.’’
That was part of Randolph’s secret. Acree told her kids before the game she was proud of the way her seniors kept their composure, and it paid off in the final seconds.
CALHOUN COUNTY BOYS 65, RANDOLPH-CLAY 62: Calhoun County’s Quenton Taylor hit two free throws with 11.3 seconds left to give Calhoun a 64-62 lead, and then hit another one with .03 on the clock to make the final, 65-62 as the Cougars (10-6 and 2-2 in Region 1-A) beat their biggest rival in front of a sold-out crowd Friday. Taylor finished with 21 points and DaJohn Williams, who fouled out with 6:16 left in the game, scored 17 for Calhoun.
Calhoun led Randolph-Clay (9-9, 5-4) by eight (63-55) with 1:51 left, but Herald Super 6er Gary McCrae scored on three consecutive drives to close to 63-61 before Calhoun put the game away. McCrae finished with 24 points.