Lee County’s Derek Jones dribbles to the basket as Bainbridge’s Devontae Jones defends during Wednesday’s battle between the Region 1-AAAAA schools. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
LEESBURG — The Bainbridge Bearcats are headed off to Region 1-AAAA next season, leaving old rivals like Lee County for some smaller competition.
On Wednesday, they waved goodbye with a dominating performance in Leesburg, where the Bearcats rode Herald Super 6er Tyree Crump to a 74-59 victory to clinch the regular-season Region 1-AAAAA title and secure the No. 1 seed in next week’s tournament.
Bainbridge fell out of first place Tuesday with a crushing overtime loss to Thomas County Central, but Wednesday’s victory created a three-way tie among Lee County, Bainbridge and Northside-Columbus — and it was Bainbridge that emerged with the No. 1 seed, while Lee, which would have claimed the regular-season region title with a victory, dropped to either the No. 2 or 3 seed.
“The boys stepped up (Wednesday),” Bainbridge coach Ricky McCullough said. “There was a lot of pressure, and they played really well. I thought it was a complete team effort.”
Crump dug Bainbridge out of an early, first-quarter deficit and ended the night with 37 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter alone.
“For a sophomore, he is a phenomenal player,” McCullough said. “He really stepped up (Wednesday).”
It was a heated game from the beginning, but emotions boiled over with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter when Lee County’s Jalin Wimberly and Bainbridge’s Frank Bryant got into a shoving match, momentarily clearing both benches before coaches and school officials separated the teams.
After convening for more than five minutes, the officials dished out double technicals to Wimberly and Bryant — and the atmosphere stayed tense for the final minutes of a game as Bainbridge started to pull away even further.
But as large as Bainbridge’s victory was, the Bearcats didn’t put away an energized and inspired Lee County team until the final minutes.
Lee County flexed its muscles early in the game and went on an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter, taking a 14-12 lead into the second quarter.
However, Bainbridge opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run, quieting the Lee County crowd and building a double-digit lead. The Trojans fought back in the final minutes before halftime thanks to a 3-pointer and a 3-point play from Zee Johnson, who lifted Lee County to within two points at halftime.
But it was all Bainbridge in the second half as the Bearcats opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run and led by at least nine points the rest of the game.
Lee County was led by Johnson’s 25 points, while JJ Rivers added 10 and Derek Jones finished with nine. Herald Super 6er Aaron May was held to six points.
LEE COUNTY GIRLS 51, BAINBRIDGE 48: The Lady Trojans survived a wild final few minutes to secure the second seed in next week’s Region 1-AAAAA tournament.
Bainbridge’s Beonka Madge hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in regulation, and the Lady Trojans’ attempt at a game-winner rattled off the rim.
In overtime, Lee County jumped ahead early and never trailed to improve to 6-4 in region play.
Maggie O’Connor (17 points) and Kayla Cooper (14) led the Lady Trojans, while Longiesha Emanual and Patra Parris scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, for Bainbridge.