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.
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.
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