The Randolph-Clay Lady Red Devils celebrate moments after beating Mitchell County in Thursday’s Class A state championship game in Macon. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
MACON — Bright lights.
Playing in front of a state-wide audience on live television.
Winning the state basketball championship?
A big deal.
Randolph-Clay’s girls basketball team staked themselves as the best in the Georgia Class A public school division Thursday afternoon at the Macon Centreplex, walloping rival Mitchell County 53-32 and taking home its first girls championship since 2000.
And they did it in convincing fashion, jumping all over the Lady Eagles in the opening minutes and never trailing. After falling in the championship game last year, Randolph-Clay made the Centreplex its home away from home with a dominating performance that left little to be decided.
“All of our hard work finally paid off,” said Thornton, who as a freshman last season, watched Gordon Lee end Randolph-Clay’s dream season on the same court in the title game.
The Lady Red Devils, who won their ninth straight, celebrated with their fans and danced on the stage with Georgia Public Broadcasting showcasing every move.
It was the first state title for coach Jennifer Acree, who guided her team back to Macon after a disastrous ending in the title game a year ago. In the process, they beat their Region 1-A foes for the fourth time this season.
“The first one feels great,” Acree said outside her team’s dressing room. “This feels so good.”
They shot a blistering 36.7 percent from the floor (18-of-49), including seven of 15 to start and never looked back. Randolph-Clay fed the ball inside to the 6-foot-2 Thornton, who finished with just nine points but grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shot attempts.
Mitchell had no answer for the sophomore inside.
“Coach told us to keep going inside to Kobi until they made some adjustments,” Randolph-Clay guard Brandi Buie said. “They never did.”
While the Lady Eagles tried to contain Thornton inside, it opened up Shanise Jackson on the wing, who drilled an 18-footer to stop an 11-2 Mitchell County run late in the third quarter.
Then Jackson buried a 3-pointer from nearly the exact same spot midway in the final quarter, pushing Randolph-Clay’s lead to 44-26 with 4:51 left.
Jackson’s basket was the last field goal for the Lady Red Devils, who sank 9-of-10 from the free throw line the rest of the way to seal the victory.
With 1:33 remaining, Acree sent in Jaylon Slaughter as a substitute for Thornton. The sophomore ran to the bench, both arms waving in the air. Acree grabbed Thornton, and the two embraced while the Randolph-Clay fans celebrated.
“You don’t know the story but a lot of other people do,” Acree said. “That girl promised me in seventh-grade that she was going to play for a state championship. She came through on her promise. We give praises to the Lord.”
Once Randolph-Clay built a double-figure lead early in the first, Mitchell never cut the lead to more than nine.
Buie, who finished with a game-high 19 points, sank a driving basket at the 6:09 mark of the third quarter to push Randolph-Clay’s lead to 30-12. But Mitchell tried to mount a comeback.
The Lady Eagles (25-7) used a 9-0 run sparked by A’Miracle Jones, who drilled a 3-pointer and added a putback. J’Maica Williams’ jumper with 2:13 left bounced up and through the net to make it 30-21.
However, that set up a pair of big baskets from Jackson, who cut down Mitchell’s momentum with a huge blow.
“That play we run is called ‘One,’ ” said Jackson, who finished with 15 points. “They left me open, so I took my chances.”
It was a heartbreaking end for Mitchell County, which chased its first girls basketball title but came up short. The Lady Eagles never seemed to get into a rhythm after falling behind early. Jones, who hit 37 points in a semifinal victory over Greenville last Saturday, picked up two quick fouls in the first 30 seconds and ended up fouling out with 2:01 left.
She led the Lady Eagles with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“They gave me two untouchable fouls in less than a minute in the first quarter,” Jones said. “They took us out of our game.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell shot a paltry 18 percent in the game (10-of-55) and were outrebounded 47-35.
While Acree said during the week that she wasn’t going to change her offensive game plan, she did hope to create a mismatch inside with Thornton, whom she said had averaged close to 30 points in Randolph-Clay’s three previous wins over Mitchell.
“That was our game plan all along,” Acree said of going inside to Thornton. “We figured we’d create a mismatch and make Mitchell figure out a way to beat us.”
It didn’t happen, leaving Randolph-Clay to proclaim itself as state champs.