by Russell Cooks
The Sandy Creek Patriots comeback rally fell just short as they lost to the Lithonia Bulldogs 55-53 in the Elite 8 Thursday evening. It was truly an epic battle and Sandy Creek and Lithonia tested each other’s will all night. It was literally punch and counter punch, but in the end, it was the Bulldogs who prevailed with a two-point victory.
In true Lob City South fashion, Sandy Creek struck first with a 15-foot jumper by Elias Harden. Tyheem Freeman answered for Lithonia with a short jumper to make the score 2-2, then Christian Turner found Evan Jester inside with an assist for a layup and it was 4-2 Sandy Creek.
Freeman scored on a driving layup to make the score four-all and Javon Jackson answered with a jumper to give the Patriots a 6-4 lead. Turner was fouled while driving to the basket and he connected on both free throws to make the score 8-4 Sandy Creek.
Turner found Jester for a short jumper in the paint and Sandy Creek led 10-4. Just when you thought the Patriots were about extend their lead, it was Robert Hatchett connecting on a jumper to make the score 10-6. In true warrior fashion, Turner drove the length of the floor, and, after being fouled, he connected on of 1-of-2 free throws and Sandy led 11-6. Freeman connected on a 3-pointer from downtown to make the score 11-9 at the end of the first quarter. At this point, everybody knew that this was going to be a battle to the end.
Sandy Creek got the scoring started in the second quarter with a 3-pointer by Turner, then it was Freeman answering with a three for Lithonia. The Bulldogs were true to their name as the played with the tenacity of a bulldog. It was Jacara Cross and Randy Chatman with back-to-back baskets to give Lithonia a 16-14 lead.
Sandy Creek went on a mini-run as Harden connected on a three and added a 15-foot jumper. Turner also connected on two free throws to make the score 21-16 Sandy Creek. Cross and Chatman followed with back-to-back baskets again to make the score 21-20 Sandy Creek. The Bulldogs just would not go away.
Turner gave the Patriots the momentum as he drove to the basket for a layup, then it was Cross answering with a driving slam off a Freeman assist and Cross also converted the and one to make it 23-all.
After a defensive stop, it was Turner connecting with Jester again on a slashing layup. Jester was fouled, and he made both free throws to give Sandy Creek a 27-24 lead at the half.
The leading scorers for the first half were Turner from Sandy Creek and Freeman from Lithonia with 10 points each.
Randy Chatman got the scoring started for Lithonia with a 3-pointer and a driving layup to give the Bulldogs a 29-27 lead out of the half. Harden answered with a 3-pointer to give Sandy Creek a 30-29 lead.
Turner found Jester for a layup before Lithonia went on a nine-point run for a 38-32 lead.
Turner drove the length of the floor and connected with Keith Heard for a layup pull the Patriots back within 38-34 of Lithonia at the end of three quarters of play.
After a period of grinding defense in the fourth quarter, Lithonia stretched their lead to 44-36 at the 4:38 mark.
Sandy Creek answered with two driving layups by Turner and a 3-pointer by Jackson to keep within 48-43 of Lithonia at the 2:30 mark.
Tylan Patterson hit a short jumper and driving layup to give Lithonia a 52-43 lead. At that point, it looked like Lithonia had the game in the bag, however, Javon Jackson forced two turnovers for Sandy Creek and Harden went to work. First he hit a 15-foot jumper, then the Sandy Creek fans went wild when he hit a NBA range 3-pointer to cut the lead to 52-48.
Cross scored on a slam dunk after the Bulldogs broke the Patriots press to give Lithonia a 54-48 lead, but Christian Turner sank two free throws to cut the lead to 54-50 with 40 seconds remaining.
Jackson made another defensive stop and it was Harden again with another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 54-53 with 27 seconds remaining. The entire arena went wild as Sandy Creek had dug themselves out of what seemed like an insurmountable hole.
Harden drove the length of the floor and was knocked to the court, but the ball was called out on Sandy Creek.
Chatman was fouled and again he missed both free throws to keep the door open. Evan Jester got what seemed to be the rebound that would position Sandy Creek to take the game winning shot, however, he was called for a key foul.
Patterson connected on his first free throw, but missed the second. Again, Jester was called for his fifth and final foul. With less than one second left, Sandy Creek called a timeout, but a long pass was intercepted by Lithonia to seal the win 55-53.
Elias Harden led Sandy Creek in scoring with 18 points. He was followed by Christian Turner with 16 points, Javon Jackson scored 9 points, and Evan Jester finished with 8 points.
Lithonia was led by Tyheem Freeman with 17 points, Jacara Cross added 15 points, and Randy Chatman scored 11 points.
Sandy Creek finishes the season with a sterling 21-8 record.