Deerfield senior star Ramello Carter, left, took over Friday's game against Dominion Christian, leading his team back from 13 points down in the final four minutes as the Knights closed on a 21-0 run to win and advance to today's GISA Class AAA title game. (File photo)
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WHO: Deerfield boys (Region 3, No. 1) vs. (Region 1, No. 2) Loganville (21-3).
WHAT: GISA Class AAA state championship game.
WHEN: 8:20 p.m. today.
WHERE: Mercer University in Macon.
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MACON — When it was over, Herald Super 6er Ramello Carter took the ball and just tossed it high in the air.
It sailed — up, up, up — above the kids from Deerfield-Windsor.
But the truth was, they were higher than the ball, the game, or the night.
“My feet haven’t hit the ground yet. I don’t know when they will,’’ said Carter, who lifted Deerfield to one of the most remarkable finishes anywhere, any time and at any level Friday night when the Knights came back with a run for the ages to beat Dominion Christian 63-55, by scoring the final 21 points of the state semifinal showdown to rally for the improbable win.
“You coach over 1,300 games, and I’ve never had one like this,” said DWS coach Gordy Gruhl, who won his 1,000th game last season. “A 21-0 run! I don’t know when I’ve ever seen that. I have never seen one like that in a game of this magnitude.’’
All the comeback did was put Deerfield (24-3) in tonight’s GISA Class AAA state title game at 8:20 p.m. back at Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena against Loganville (21-3), which beat Westminster in the other semifinal, 55-45, late Friday night.
It looked like it was over for the Knights so many times, and when they fell behind, 55-42, with 4:08 left in the game, almost no one would have given the DWS kids a chance.
“Nobody believed we could win this game but us,’’ said Carter, who simply took over the game and the season. “I just couldn‘t let my senior season end like this. Whatever I had to do for the team, I was going to do it.’’
Carter started the run buy hitting three 3-pointers in a row, and then he just kept coming, scoring 15 of the 21 points to finish with 24 points on a night he will never forget.
“He was just lights out for them,” said Dominion Christian coach Chris Schimdt, whose team led most of the night.’
The Deerfield kids went searching for words for Carter’s high-flying act.
“Indescribable,” said guard Dee Barber, who finished with 10 points. His brother, Jay Barber, who hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final minute to ice the game away, went one better.
“He was supernatural! When he started hitting those shots, I knew he was in his zone. I knew he was going to make those shots.”
Carter said he felt it right away.
“When I felt that second 3, I knew I was in my zone,’’ Carter said. “I started feeling it, and my teammates came through, too. They hit the big free throws. Winning this game is the best feeling I’ve ever had. I’m speechless. I don’t have words for it.”
Carter hit 3 treys in the first half but went to halftime with just nine points and didn’t score in a physical third quarter that saw DWS, which was down, 26-14, midway in the second quarter, fight back to take a 40-38 when Jay Barber made a steal and a dazzling drive with 59 seconds left in the third. But Dominion’s Harrison Kristofak, who led DC with 16 points, bombed in back-to-back 3s in the final 20 seconds to lift Dominion to a 46-40 lead.
The whole night seemed cursed for Deerfield.
“We’d fight back and get the lead, and then their kid hits two 3s to end the quarter,” Gruhl said. “Balls are rolling in and out all night and nothing felt right. It just felt like one of those games when nothing would go right for us.’’
It was like that for most of the night. Then Carter hit the 3 to start the run with 4:08 left and Deerfield took flight — and everything went right for DWS, which won its 19th game in row to reach the title game .
“What a night for (Ramello). When he made his first basket of the game, it put him over 1,500 points for his career,’’ Gruhl said of Carter, who was the sixth man on DWS 2010 state championship team. The Knights, who had been to five Final Fours in a row, missed going when Carter was a sophomore and again last year when they were stunned in the first round.
“This time we did the stunning,’’ Jay Barber said.
During the run, Carter made every shot he took (6-for-6, including 3-for 3 from beyond the arc). His third 3 cut the lead to 55-51, and then Weston King, who had a big night on the boards, hit Sam Shellhaas with a slick pass inside and Shellhaas cashed in to make it 55-53.
King finished with eight points and 11 rebounds against the bigger Dominion lineup that dominated the boards early when everything was going against DWS.
After the King assist to Shellhaas, Carter took control again. He hit a drive in traffic to knot things at 55-55 with 1:47 left. Then he made a steal and a coast-to-coast drive to lift DWS to a 57-55 lead with 1:30 on the clock --- and DWS never slowed down.
“Carter just took over,’’ Gruhl said. “He did what a big-time player does. When the game ended, he just fell down. I looked at him, and I didn’t say anything. He deserved a rest. He was spent.
“I was so proud of all of them. I was so impressed with the way they kept their resolve and kept their composure when everything was going against them. Nothing felt right (Friday night), and then we have a comeback like that, 21-0. We’re playing for the state championship (tonight) and you feel like you are playing with house money after that. It’s a real nice house --- it’s in the high-rent district.”