Patriots fall in Final Four 63-56

TJ Bickerson elevates for a dunk against Americus-Sumter. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

The Patriots can’t quite reach the mountain top. For the third-straight season, Sandy Creek’s run ended in the semifinals. This time, their bid for a second half rally ran out of time as they fell to the Americus-Sumter Panthers 63-56 at Ft. Valley State Saturday afternoon.

Americus raced out of the gates on an 8-0 run. Sandy Creek finally got on the board halfway through the quarter with a dish from Deshon Proctor to Jabari Smith for two, and Tj Bickerstaff sliced the gap to one on a steal and dunk and a three-point play.

Jordan Wiley heated up for Americus, sinking a pair of 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer, as they led 19-11 at the end of the first.

The deficit swelled to double-digits early in the second, despite Julian Alexander hitting from deep, and then getting to the hoop for two. Turnovers and missed free throws mounted up as Americus grabbed a commanding 39-27 halftime lead on a Trae Brown bucket at the buzzer.

Their backs against the wall, Sandy Creek came out of the locker room reinvigorated. Bickerstaff found Proctor on a backdoor cut to get back within 10, and Keith Williams drained a 3-pointer to get within 41-34. Late in the frame, Bickerstaff hit a corner 3-pointer to make it a five-point game, but the Panthers did it again, closing the third with a shot at the buzzer, Joshua Lusane sinking a jumper to send his team into the fourth ahead 52-45.

A Bickerstaff steal and flush got the Patriots within three points midway through the fourth, and they kept pushing. They drew as close as 58-54 with 39 seconds left, but Americus kept them at bay. Quevoluia Willoughby hit a pair of clutch free throws with eight seconds left to ice the 63-56 victory.

In the loss, Bickerstaff led the way with another strong all-around outing, posting 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, and 4 assists. Alexander added 13 points.

Julian Alexander posted 13 points in his final high school game.

The Patriots finish the season 27-4, with a flawless region record and a region crown.

It closes the book on a remarkable senior class led by Bickerstaff and Alexander and featuring Errick Davis, Kendric Miller, and RJ Howard.

“They’re amazing. They worked their butts off for a common goal,” said head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson of his seniors. “They gave me everything, and it hurts. I feel for them.”

The sting of the loss is still fresh, but with a host of returning talent coming back, the Patriots will return, and they’ll climb that mountaintop.


To see more photos, click here.




Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.

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